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No Bypassing Har Sinai

Yisroel Besser

A year after his passing, Rav Moshe Shapira ztz”l’s talmidim are using the emunah tools he instilled to navigate their own loss

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

 Mishpacha image

He wanted people to realize what the Jewish heart is, what the neshamah is, how authentic emunah was always passed down from parents to their children and how each of us has so many tools of faith inside of us (Photos: Mattis Goldberg; Rabbi Aubrey Hirsch)

I t’s almost clichéd, the post-levayah accounts that talk about the diversity of the crowd, the different demographics that joined in mourning the great man as evident by the size and color of the yarmulkes.

Still, it’s always worth mentioning, although in most cases, it’s just a reflection of public respect, indication that the tzaddik in question was revered beyond his own community.

Last year, though, as the darkness of the Tenth of Teves descended, a different kind of levayah was held. Because for Rav Moshe Shapira ztz”l, all those different types who escorted him on his final journey weren’t just paying respects — they were mourning their rebbi, the man who was, to them, a source of life.

From all corners, they came to cry.

And so the image was the revelation of a secret, the secret held by this man who hurried through life gathering talmidim and breathing life into souls wherever he went, but never letting it be about him.

What, then, was the call of this prophet, the message that had nothing to do with externals and everything to do with the neshamah?

Rav Moshe said shiur in lomdus, halachah, Kabbalah, and hashkafah, but there was one topic that he never really touched on: himself.

But during his final months, just over a year ago, he was in New York for treatment and a beloved talmid was sitting with him. “For 40 years,” Rav Moshe remarked, “I am speaking about emunah.”

That was the message. And that’s the secret of the masses, those who came from all over to learn from this man — because emunah is beyond externals; it’s the essence of every single Jew.

Rav Moshe once explained it this way. The Ramban understands that the mitzvah to remember Mattan Torah isn’t “lizkor,” to remember alone, but also “pen tishkach,” not to forget. Remembering can be external, but not to forget means it’s internal, part of our essence.

“He made the pain into a gift. He made you feel like the pain was some sort of special bond with the Ribbono shel Olam, and that the fact that it was so intense was part of the blessing. He offered layers of emunah with each word of compassion”

Rav Moshe was the shepherd of emunah — teaching, speaking, revealing, fanning its eternal flame — and giving water to the thirstiest flock in the world.

Share the Wealth

The talmid in whom Rav Moshe confided that day during treatment had been along for a large part of that 40-year journey.

The relationship between Rabbi Ruven Schmelczer and his rebbi dates back to a simpler time, when Rav Moshe was freer than he would be in later years. Rav Moshe was in Chicago for a wedding and the teenage Telshe talmid was drawn to this visitor, a young rosh yeshivah who managed to exude Telshe majesty along with the Novardoker humility, just as he combined Slabodka grandeur with Kelmer discipline. It seemed as if every one of the great yeshivos of the last generation had brushed him with some of their color and vibrancy.

They spoke in learning, the American bochur and the Israeli visitor, and two souls connected. The bochur followed up with a letter he sent to Eretz Yisrael — and Rav Moshe replied:

“My dear one… continue to make acquisitions in Torah. See to it that any area you encounter should become yours through constant review and proper iyun…”

It was Rav Moshe’s personal credo: to master each subject… and each person, each place, each date. There are layers of real significance under every stone. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 692)

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