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“To Us, He Was Simply ‘The Rosh Yeshivah’ ”

Rabbi Eytan Kobre

On a recent Motzaei Shabbos, Mishpacha’s Eytan Kobre, a talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Yeshiva of Staten Island, joined some longtime friends for a Melaveh Malkah. It was a rare opportunity for chaverim to share precious memories of Reb Moshe, and the years they spent accompanying a true melech through the byways of his Torah kingdom. Invited for a meal, by evening’s end they had experienced something truly magical.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Walking up the steps to the Lakewood home of our hosts, Rabbi and Mrs. Pinchus Gershon Waxman, I realized that this wasn’t going to be just another get-together with old friends — I was about to enter a veritable time capsule that would transport us to what was perhaps the most special time in our lives.

It was a simpler, halcyon time, to be sure, before the onset of the pressures and complications that adult life invariably brings. But those years — beclouded now by the mists of time, yet at the same time as palpable and immediate as yesterday’s events — were special for another reason: the zchus we’d had to bask in the warm, brilliant glow of a man — a human malach, really — whom the world called “Reb Moshe,” but whom we, from the moment we set foot in yeshivah and forever after, knew only as “the Rosh Yeshivah.”

Each participant in this Melaveh Malkah had spent at least two to three years in the Rosh Yeshivah’s weekly shiur, some of us far longer. But Chazal tell us that gedolah shimushah shel Torah yoser milimudah, observing and serving a rebbi is greater than studying under him, and beyond the shiur, we had all experienced the presence of the gadol hador in Staten Island for a full day each week for many years.

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As I walk through the door and into Memory Lane, my mind wanders to that far-off world.

After making the trip from the Lower East Side in time to daven Shacharis with us each Wednesday morning, the Rosh Yeshivah would then spend the morning preparing shiur with the same intensity and geshmak as if it were the first time he had ever seen the sugya and developed these chiddushim. In actuality, he had given these very shiurim to talmidim for decades, having created the nucleus of his seforim on Shas, the Dibros Moshe, nearly sixty years earlier, before reaching the age of twenty. One floor above in the beis medrash, scores of bochurim were preparing for their own weekly miniature reenactment of kabbalas haTorah, with our generation’s own Moshe eved Hashem as the intermediary.

The Rosh Yeshivah would write the mareh mekomos (sources) for the shiur on a small slip of paper, and it would be placed on the bimah for our perusal. The more intrepid among us would prepare for the shiur by looking up all of the sources and try to gain an inkling of the approach the Rosh Yeshivah would take in the sugya. Others, like myself, would take the “easier” route by learning the actual shiur from copies of the Rosh Yeshivah’s manuscript.

The Rosh Yeshivah had a very distinctive handwriting that many found daunting to decipher. While even us twelfth-graders entering his shiur for the first time were able to read his script with ease within a matter of weeks, we certainly could not understand the profound thoughts expressed in that script.

As I write these words, I reach for several yellowed file folders crammed with pages of those shiurim I had pored over so intensely with my chavrusa some thirty-five years ago. I remove a handful of sheets from the top of the stack, which turn out to be the Rosh Yeshivah’s first shiur on Maseches Gittin, and begin counting the pages. On and on I count, eighteen pages in total, each marginless page crowded with hundreds of words in the Rosh Yeshivah’s hand.

Each shiur was divided into anafim, or branches. In this opening shiur on Gittin, there were seven such anafim. Most of the shiurim were delivered over two weeks, but this lengthy one may well have extended to three weeks. Although the term “branches” conjures the image of a tree, perhaps a better metaphor for the shiur would be that of a binyan, a structure. No humble hut was this, nor even a more spacious residence, but a sprawling, multilevel edifice with an amazingly intricate interweaving of beams, pipes, and wires. Not for naught did Rav Aharon Kotler comment on the Rosh Yeshivah’s first published volume of shiurim, on Bava Kamma, that somewhere between its covers there appeared every conceivable worthy svara relevant to that masechta.


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