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The Only Thing I Want

Aryeh Ehrlich

Last week, seven seats sat vacant. Seven rabbinic chairs gracing the eastern walls of shuls, yeshivos, and kollelim sat empty, their owners confined to low shivah chairs in a Jerusalem apartment. Across the globe, shiurim were cancelled; those scheduled to deliver them were forbidden from their holy pursuits. Seven princes, seven outstanding talmidei chachamim, leaders of kehillos and yeshivos, sat speaking in hushed voices. Paying tribute to their father, Rav Moshe Weiss.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Seventy years before Rav Moshe Weiss passed away in Shaare Zedek Medical Center, an otherworldly dialogue took place. Two men — Moshe Weiss and his rebbe, Rav Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, the Shefa Chaim of Sanz-Klausenberg — sat in a truck filled with the bodies of martyred Jews. Both were alone; Moshe’s parents had been murdered and the Rebbe had lost his wife and 11 children. Both had left personal mourning aside, completely focused on burying the kedoshim of the war just ended. These two members of the self-appointed chevra kaddisha continued circulating through the land of death, driving a vehicle given to them by the Allied conquerors, performing taharos and reverently giving each corpse a proper kevurah. “Meis mitzvah, hakol krovav,” the Rebbe declared. “We are their family.” There were few other takers for the mitzvah. The survivors were weakened by starvation and pain, every bit of energy invested simply in picking up the pieces and finding hope for a new day; in addition, they feared the very real danger of typhus and infection from the dead bodies. But the Rebbe and his talmid forged on; one driving, the other digging. “There was one moment when I almost broke,” Rav Moshe Weiss would later confess. “I felt that my physical and emotional strength had been totally depleted, and I shared my feelings with the Rebbe. I wanted to be excused. “The Rebbe fixed me with a penetrating gaze and said, ‘What is it you want, my dear Moishe? Whatever it is, it will be given to you.’ “I thought for a moment, and I recognized that I had been given a golden opportunity. The Rebbe was offering me a brachah. ‘There is one thing I want,’ I told the Rebbe. ‘I want to have sons who are talmidei chachamim. I want my children to know every Tosafos in Shas.’ “ ‘You should be zocheh for all your sons to be talmidei chachamim,’ the Rebbe said. I answered ‘amen’ with great fervor. From that point on, the work became much easier for me. I knew that by doing it, I was guaranteeing the spiritual future of my children. After many long weeks, we finally finished our task.”

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