But the chassidim knew what really occupied the Vizhnitzer Rebbe. Close to his chair, an old wooden chest contained well-worn volumes of Shas. Many years ago, he admonished his family, “Please, when you clean the room, don’t squeeze the seforim into the chest. Leave a little space between each sefer. I want to use my time well. If the chest is packed tightly, it takes a few extra precious moments to take out the Gemara …”
Although the Vitznitzer Rebbe, Rav Moshe Yehoshua Hager ztz”l — who passed away last week on 20 Adar at the age of 95 — didn’t shun the intrigue of Israeli politics and for many years was nasi of the Moetzes Gedolei Torah, the Council of Torah Sages for the Agudah party, he drew his lifeblood from Torah learning. All other pursuits were secondary to soaking up more and more pages of Gemara.
Ten years ago, in the summer of 2002, some of the elder chassidim were privileged to join the Rebbe in a vacation apartment in Telshe Stone, where the Rebbe revealed some of the secrets of his own intensive measures in Torah study and his expectations for the next generation. Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses, who served as the gabbai of the Imrei Chaim — the Rebbe’s father — during the last years of his life, shares some of that intimate gathering with Mishpacha:
“At that time, the Rebbe was already considerably weak. We realized that he was exerting himself to convey this living piece of history. It was Erev Shabbos. His son Rav Yisrael [who together with his brother Rav Mendel has inherited the mantle of leadership] was to travel to Meron to spend a Shabbos Hisachdus with hundreds of bochurim, and Rav Yisrael asked the Rebbe to convey a message to the bochurim.
“The Rebbe replied, ‘Tell them that if a yungerman learns seven or eight hours a day in kollel, that’s not called hasmadah [diligence]. When I was a young bochur in Grosswardein, I took on myself not to close my eyes after Maariv until I’d learned for five consecutive hours. Thursday nights I didn’t sleep at all. It was during those days that I thoroughly completed the Ketzos HaChoshen, Nesivos, and a hefty part of Pri Megadim. “ ‘There was one man who could see inside the window of the tiny room I learned in. That was Reb Chaim Mashgiach, who was in charge of the neighborhood kashrus, a pure-hearted soul who woke every midnight to say the entire Sefer Tehillim. He was the one who “informed” on me to my holy father, who then commanded me to sleep more. At the time, I bore resentment toward Reb Chaim; because of him I had to waste my nights sleeping. But he meant well.
“ ‘I’m telling this now because I want my students to know that Torah that comes amid deprivation and through overcoming bodily pleasures and needs — that’s true hasmadah. Learning full time in kollel is a very noteworthy way of fulfilling the obligation of Torah study, but it doesn’t constitute hasmadah.’ ”
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