Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Kislev 5764 - November 26, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira's Historic Visit to England

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

British Jews had the privilege of receiving HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira, one of our generation's great roshei yeshivos, who arrived in England for a visit two weeks ago. When plans of the historic visit became known shortly before his scheduled arrival, the country's askonim, led by R' Yitzchok Meir Cymmerman, head of Agudas Yisroel of England, quickly went to work on the arrangements. R' Cymmerman and HaRav Shapira were friends decades ago when they studied together at Yeshivas Baranovitch under HaRav Elchonon Wasserman, Hy"d. R' Cymmerman still has a collection of chizuk letters from this period which HaRav Shapira used to write to him every Friday. During his stay in England HaRav Shapira stayed at the home of HaRav Heitner.

Before his departure, Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov held a going- away party celebrating the release of two additional volumes of Kuntrus HaBiurim on maseches Kesuvos and Bovo Basra. The series is known as a fundamental work in yeshiva halls and is now appearing with the addition of hundreds of new notes. The Rosh Yeshiva recited Shehechiyonu Besheim Umalchus in keeping with his custom, followed by divrei Torah to mark the publication of the new seforim by the staff that dedicated itself to the task of bringing them to print in all their splendor and glory. He also delivered divrei chizuk in advance of his journey.

Accompanied by an entourage of rabbonim and talmidim, the Rosh Yeshiva drove to Ben Gurion International Airport, where he rode in the car of the rabbi of El Al directly to the airplane. Upon his arrival in London numerous talmidim were on hand to greet him with song.

Before HaRav Shapira had a chance to rest from the flight a large crowd gathered outside the house where he was staying - - prominent rabbonim who had come to greet him, talmidim seeking to drink in his Torah learning, plain folk in need of advice, guidance, chizuk or brochos and some who just wanted to catch a glimpse of him.

HaRav Shapira's first visit was in the home of HaRav Elchonon Halperin. When they drank lechaim HaRav Halperin poured him a drink in the cup that once belonged to R' Meir of Premishlan, a practice family members said they had never seen before. Towards the end of the visit, HaRav Halperin invited the Rosh Yeshiva to join him on a visit to Talmud Torah Pardes, which is under his nesius, saying his grandfather, the author of the Divrei Chaim, would pay a visit to the cheder in his town every Friday to quiz the talmidim and to gauge their progress.

At Pardes the teachers, administrators, hundreds of talmidim and a crowd of onlookers packed the assembly hall, greeting the Rosh Yeshiva with a round of Or zoru'a latzaddik . . . .

The principal, HaRav Dunner, received the Rosh Yeshiva eagerly and told the talmidim that memories of the visit should remain with them for the rest of their lives. Later HaRav Halperin spoke, telling the children that the mitzvah of heeding the words of chachomim is the foundation for the educational future of yaldei Yisroel.

A hush settled in the assembly hall when the Rosh Yeshiva began to speak to the talmidim, focusing on the contribution made by tinokos shel beis rabbon on whom the world's entire existence rests. Quoting the verse, "Im lo brisi yomom volailoh, chukos shomayim vo'oretz lo samti" (Yirmiyohu 33:25), the Rosh Yeshiva said, "What if I were to ask you, dear children: `In the merit of whose Torah learning does the world exist? R' Akiva Eiger? Or the Chazon Ish?' The answer is, No! Or perhaps the world exists in the merit of the Rishonim, the Ramban and the Rashbo? The answer to this is again, No! Maybe in the merit of the Torah learning of the Amoraim and Tanoim? The answer is, No! Then in the merit of whose Torah learning does the world exist? In the merit of your Torah learning, kinderlach! For Chazal said the world only exists in the merit of hevel pihem shel tinokos shel beis rabbon! And if so a great responsibility rests on your young shoulders, for all of Am Yisroel's safety depends on your Torah learning."

Following his talk, with striking orderliness, all of the talmidim filed past for several minutes to receive the Rosh Yeshiva's blessings and then accompanied him to the car singing Yomim al yemei melech tosif.

An Elevating Shabbos

Many of his talmidim and close acquaintances from England and other parts of Europe came to spend Shabbos with their rebbe, including groups from Antwerp, Gateshead and even from the US. The Rosh Yeshiva spent the Shabbos meals with his host, HaRav Heitner. After the Shabbos night meal, hundreds of guests and talmidim crammed into the house to hear HaRav Shapira's divrei Torah. He also sang Ko'ayil ta'arog al afikei moyim to a melody he composed while traveling from London to Gateshead during a visit in England over 25 years ago.

It is interesting that after he conceived an important chiddush during the course of the long journey from London to Gateshead, he was inspired to compose the new melody. His talmidim know that almost every time a chiddush comes to the Rosh Yeshiva it is accompanied by a melody.

He also sang his well-known niggun for the verse, Hinei yomim bo'im ne'um Hashem, vehishlachti ro'ov bo'oretz, lo ro'ov lalechem velo tzomo lamayim ki im lishmo'a es divrei Hashem (Amos 8:11). Afterwards he spoke further about this posuk and asked how this verse could be included among a list of curses since hunger and thirst for the word of Hashem are blessings, not curses?

Citing the Ponovezher Rav he explained that when people are hungry or thirsty they do not check the quality of the food or the water, but consume whatever is available even if it has some dirt mixed in. Similarly when learning the Word of Hashem in a state of hunger and thirst resulting from spiritual want and desolation, one is liable to take in the Word of Hashem with foreign ideas mixed in with all the danger this entails. Therefore the verse is included in the passage about the curses that precede the arrival of Moshiach.

The Rosh Yeshiva then suggested that he understands the verse according to the more obvious interpretation. He noted that even tasteless bread and water are consumed when one is hungry or thirsty. In the case of divrei Torah however, it is not enough to merely learn until the hunger and thirst for the Word of Hashem are satisfied, rather one must feel the flavor and sweetness of the Word of Hashem until even when he is not hungry or thirsty his soul still yearns for more divrei Torah.

The seudah carried on into the late hours of the night, intertwining divrei Torah with song, and the riveted onlookers did not want to leave until the Rosh Yeshiva hinted the time had come to retire by recounting the following anecdote:

Once HaRav Boruch Ber Leibovitz was singing songs and niggunim until late into the night and then his wife came in saying, "Boruch Berl, you have to go to sleep and you should let the oilom go to sleep too." HaRav Boruch Ber heeded his wife and stopped singing immediately.

On motzei Shabbos, London Gavad HaRav Efraim Padwa paid a visit. Afterwards he and HaRav Shapira drove together to a chizuk and his'orerus gathering to address the topics of chinuch and kevius itim leTorah. A special letter had been circulated by rabbonim in England and Eretz Yisroel encouraging people to attend.

Upon their arrival at the large hall of Beis Knesses Adas Yisroel, where the event was held under police guard due to rising antisemitism in Europe, baalei batim and bnei Torah from all over London greeted the Rosh Yeshiva with a lively round of Se'u she'orim rosheichem as he stepped in together with HaRav Padwa, HaRav Halperin and several other eminent British rabbonim.

In the opening address HaRav Padwa spoke of the importance of regularly going to the beis medrash, which he called the foremost condition for success in chinuch since seeing ahavas Torah has an effect on children. Then HaRav Roberts, the rov of the beis knesses, gave a rousing talk in English.

HaRav Shapira delivered the central address, saying it is not enough for us to follow the path of Hashem, since our existence is primarily in the merit of generational continuity and the education of our children in the way of Hashem. "Who is greater than Avrohom Ovinu, o"h," he asked, "the father of the nation who, despite all of his elevated character traits, HaKodosh Boruch Hu said he merited the task of establishing Klal Yisroel only, `Lema'an asher yetzaveh es bonov ve'es beiso acharov veshomru derech Hashem . . . '? From here we see that generational continuity in the way of Hashem is the only guarantee of Klal Yisroel's existence."

The Rosh Yeshiva added that according to Chazal in Sifrei (Eikev 46 and cited in Rashi, Devorim 11:19), "When the child begins to speak, his father should talk to him in Loshon Hakodesh and teach him Torah, and if he does not talk to him in Loshon Hakodesh and does not teach him Torah, it is as if he buries him.

"I heard the Mashgiach Rav Yeruchom say this teaches us that everything depends on the beginning. If a young man's head is engaged in nonsense, this is the foundation for a life of idleness, chas vesholom, and thus it really is as if he buries him, lo oleinu!"

The Rosh Yeshiva also spoke at length about the obligation to keep fixed times for Torah study, without which one cannot impart ahavas Torah to his children. "One cannot educate a child for [a life of] Torah if he doesn't see ahavas Torah in his father, and ahavas Torah in the father is only through the father setting times for Torah as well, and the child sees that this is a part of his father's soul. Of course much tefilloh is needed. Maran the Brisker Rov, zechuso yogen oleinu, told me how many tears he spilled in prayer for his children and how he would stand over their cradle and say Tehillim. "But," he added, "the parents must set an example and without such an example, it is something else entirely."

"And how should the kevius itim leTorah be? Rabbenu Avrohom Ben HaRambam tells us something fabulous on the verse, `VeYitzchok bo mebo Be'eir Lachai Ro'i' (Bereishis 24:62). Rabbenu Avrohom Ben HaRambam asks why the verse tells us where Yitzchok was coming from [when Rivkoh arrived, and explains:] Be'eir Lachai Ro'i was the place of Yitzchok's avodas Hashem, for there the angel was revealed to Hogor. Yitzchok would go there to spend time alone [engaged] in avodas Hashem and His Torah. Therefore the verse tells us that Yitzchok was on his way back from Be'eir Lachai Ro'i because had he been going there even though Rivkoh his bride had arrived, he would not have stopped going there to avodas Hashem and only now that he was returning from his place of learning did he make himself available to build Beis Yisroel with Rivkoh Imeinu.

"This is how fixed times for Torah study should be--not to cancel the fixed time for any reason . . . Sometimes we see laxity in keeping times for Torah because one says to himself, `What difference does it make if I learn for a few hours or just one hour? Either way I won't know all of Shas and all the Torah. Also, according to human nature one postpones until tomorrow or the next day or another time saying, `What's so pressing today?'

"Citing the verse, `Vehoyu hadevorim ho'eileh asher Onochi metzavecho hayom al levovecho,' the Chofetz Chaim says one should not make calculations about how he will complete the whole Torah and [determine] he cannot succeed; look only at the daf of gemora in front of you to study today. And when you say, `I'll learn tomorrow or some other time,' the verse tells you `hayom'! HaKodosh Boruch Hu is commanding you regarding today, and if you delay you are not fulfilling the Torah's commandment . . .

"And to Maran the Chofetz Chaim's holy words it can be added that there is something else that also leads to laxity in people's hearts when one does not feel the responsibility placed upon him and says to himself the Torah will be maintained by the tens of thousands of people sitting and occupying themselves in Torah, and what will my Torah learning add or detract? To this the verse says, `Asher Onochi metzavecho,' i.e. HaKodosh Boruch Hu is commanding you, it is to you that HaKodosh Boruch Hu is speaking, you as an individual, so don't say there are others. HaKodosh Boruch Hu says, `My beloved son, set times for Torah, keep the Torah,' and who would hear how HaKodosh Boruch Hu speaks to him and commands him and not do it?"

He illustrated the point with the following story about his ancestor, the Netziv, when he was elderly. It was recently published in his name in the book Nichocha Shel Torah:

Once the Netziv went to visit a former Yeshivas Volozhin talmid who had long since left the yeshiva to enter the business world. His rebbe the Netziv asked how he was doing. With fallen face and a gloomy expression the talmid replied that he was doing just fine, with Hashem's help. "Then why do you look so despondent?" asked the Netziv. "Your face is full of melancholy and misery."

The former talmid sighed and said, "Rebbe, I'll tell you the truth: I am suffering greatly from my wife who harasses me, scorns me in public, disregards my opinions and does not respect me in the least. For example, in business my wife constantly imposes her will and expresses her opinion on every single matter and takes no note of what I say at all! Even in front of all of my workers and customers she doesn't stop humiliating me. As a result they, too, do not take me seriously and belittle my opinion. It's no wonder I look glum, for my life is hard and bitter as can be."

"I have just one question," said the Netziv. "Do you set time aside for Torah study?" The talmid replied that he had not managed to do so because he was so occupied he lacked the free time to sit down and learn.

"If so," said the Netziv, "her derision is perfectly understandable. In matters related to the store and business she may well be right and she may have an aptitude for managing and marketing. It's not at all inconceivable that in these matters your wife can compete with you and that she really is a better seller than you are. If this is the case, why should she look up to you in this regard? My advice to you," concluded the Netziv, "is that from now on you make sure to set aside one hour a day for Torah study. Then you'll see that besides the Torah's inherent ability to raise you up and elevate you in all your endeavors, your wife will also see for herself that this area has nothing to do with her. And that will give her a reason to respect you."

About a year later the Netziv went back to him and asked how he was doing. Beaming with happiness he replied, "Rebbe, you saved my life! My wife's attitude toward me has changed completely. Suddenly she began to show me respect and esteem."

"This is the power of Torah," concluded HaRav Shapira. "The power of a page of gemora, both derech hateva and as a seguloh that raises a man up in the eyes of the people around him until everybody respects him and recognizes his merits.

"Morai verabosai, thus all depends on setting times for Torah study in addition to carrying out the Torah and mitzvas, for the reward [for Torah study] is equal to all [other mitzvas]. Chinuch habonim and sholom bayis also depend on this. Certainly each and every person should contemplate this carefully and gather strength and pledge never to cancel his set times."

When the Rosh Yeshiva finished speaking, the audience participated in prayers and supplications for Jews in Eretz Yisroel and in the Diaspora hanesunim betzoroh uvashivyoh.

On Sunday and Monday the Rosh Yeshiva continued to receive British rabbonim who came to greet and visit him, including London Av Beis Din HaRav Chanoch Ehrentreu and Rosh Yeshivas Gateshead HaRav Avrohom Gurewicz, who spoke to him at length primarily about the sugyos the yeshiva is studying.

* * *

Other roshei yeshivos also took advantage of the rare visit to consult with HaRav Shapira regarding current issues at their respective institutions. Monday night the Rosh Yeshiva took part in a dinner held to raise funds for Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov.

At a special gathering for London's chareidi activists, HaRav Shapira said, "We say, `Acheinu kol Beis Yisroel hanesunim betzoroh uvashivyoh.' Why is it `kol Beis Yisroel?' It should say, `Acheinu Beis Yisroel.' After all, is all of Beis Yisroel in dire straits and captivity?

"In Am Yisroel when one person faces a tzoroh all of us are in a tzoroh, and when one of us is in captivity all of us should feel as if we are in captivity." Later he spoke of the great need to plead [in prayer] for the tzoroh of Klal Yisroel and the tzoroh of the individual, for there are so many tragedies and tzoros in Am Yisroel and one must take note to pray and plead for this [to be remedied] for all of us are children from a single nation and Father."

HaRav Gurewicz also spoke, saying that because of the heavy work load at the yeshiva he hardly ever has the time to leave, yet in this case he saw a special obligation to greet his rebbe while in England. Although he never studied at Yeshiva Be'er Yaakov, said HaRav Gurewicz, still he was obligated as a talmid. "Besides the privilege of having one of the pillars of Torah who toils in it with pleasure arrive in England I personally received much Torah from him, from the great gaon's illuminating books."

As an example, HaRav Gurewicz said that as a bochur he worked hard to understand the writings of the RiY meGash until HaRav Shapira came along and illuminated the writings of the Rishonim, including the RiY meGash in particular. "He opened up the RiY meGash before us, where and on which point to toil and uncover the hidden treasure in the words of the Rishonim, therefore all of us are his talmidim."

Later he quoted the verse, "Im tevakshenoh kakesef uchematmonim techpesenoh, oz tovin yiras Hashem," saying it can be divided into two parts: "Im tevakshenoh" refers to toiling in Torah, i.e. seeking an understanding of the Torah. "uchematmonim techpesenoh" is another level where one knows a great find is definitely hidden and in all the digging one is glad to be progressing toward the hidden treasure, which makes the search a pleasure. "We see that the Rosh Yeshiva represents an emblem and an example in Klal Yisroel of omol haTorah and its pleasantness, taking pleasure in every single discovery in it."

The latter part of the verse, "Oz tovin yiras Hashem," should serve as an awakening, he added. "Chazal relate the levels of Torah, saying Torah leads to zehirus and zehirus leads to zerizus, etc. until reaching the ultimate shleimus. Only by reaching the level of tevakshenoh kakesef uchematmonim techpesenoh can one achieve shleimus. Everyone should know that the path to shleimus is only through toiling in Torah and learning it with pleasure," he said.


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