One of the most notable and renowned of the last
generation's luminaries was no doubt HaRav Meir Shapira.
Whether the underlying cause is his introduction of the
Daf Hayomi that he initiated to the Knessia Gedolah
and which became accepted worldwide, or his holy yeshiva
which became the springboard for roshei yeshiva and
their yeshivos across the continents; it makes no
difference. The fact is that the name HaRav Meir Shapira
pulsates with life today and every day — almost 70
years after his passing.
Yes, the blessing sent in a telegram to Rabbi Meir by a
great rosh yeshiva in Lithuania was fulfilled in his
talmidim, "Al tikrei bonayich elo bonoyich
— may it be the will of Hashem that the sons of the
yeshiva grow to be like the builders of the yeshiva."
However, at the time that the Lubliner Rov decided to found
his yeshiva that was to become the chosen mokom Torah
for the cream of Poland and Galicia's talmidei
chachomim, he had no inkling of the physical and
emotional strength it would cost him to finance the running
of such an institution and to ensure that the
bochurim could learn without worrying where their
next meal would come from. (The whole idea was innovative,
as up to then yeshiva boys had always eaten "teg,"
being a guest for each meal by families of the town.)
It was later said of the Rov that he literally gave his life
for the yeshiva.
Succos 5694/1933, in his last month in this world, found
HaRav Meir Shapira sitting in the large succah that
was built for the bnei hayeshiva, surrounded by his
talmidim who for the most part had not gone home for
yom tov. Among them was HaGaon Reb Shmuel Halevi
Wosner, shlita, one of the few talmidim still
with us today, who stayed in the yeshiva for two consecutive
years without leaving once.
He related of that night: "We sat around the Rov and he told
us that tonight we sit in the succah which is called
by the mekubolim: betzeiloh demehemnusso — in
the shadow of emunoh of Hashem. The Rov added, "But
we are sitting in the shade of Hashem in a literal
He then went on to explain, "Just before Succos, I used up
the last of the money that I had from my father-in-law for
the building of the yeshiva succah. The amount I had
was insufficient to cover the job, so I went to borrow. My
benefactors, knowing that I am a man of G-d, believed that I
would repay them and readily lent me the money required. So
here we are sitting in the shade that was provided to us
because I am a servant of Hashem."
Once Rabbi Meir met an old acquaintance he had known in his
youth. His friend expressed surprise that in the few years
they hadn't seen each other Rabbi Meir's black, youthful
beard had turned almost completely white and he demanded to
know the cause. Rabbi Meir retorted sharply, "The truth is
that really my whole beard is white. The few black hairs
that you see here are from the yeshiva that's keeping me
Often his journeys to collect money for the yeshiva brought
in only a paltry sum. The Lubliner Rav, however, was not one
to be broken by disappointing excursions.
Once, after such a trip, he was asked by talmidim how
much he had made.
"I didn't make much money but I definitely managed to get
money's worth — shoveh kessef." Then,
explaining, he added, "Every time I go collecting, people
imagine I've amassed large amounts and, relying on this
`knowledge,' the banks and rich people lend me money. So
just by traveling around to schnor, I'm laying the
ground for borrowing large sums."
A wealthy individual who had long strayed from Torah's path
sat in his palatial living room, listening to Rabbi Meir
Shapira's request for money for the yeshiva. His face took
on an expression of boredom and indifference as Rabbi Meir
launched into a long speech extolling the virtues of the
boys who sit day and night learning Torah, and the rewards
of those who support them, enabling them to study without
any material worries.
With a wave of his hand, the haughty man interrupted,
"Listen here rabbi, you're wasting your words. I have no
connection to yeshivos and their students. I never learnt in
a yeshiva and neither did my sons, and I sincerely hope that
my grandchildren too will never do something so
"So you consider yourself worse than Haman Horosho, I see,"
shot back R' Meir.
Confused, the man was taken aback. "How do I consider myself
worse than Haman?"
"It says in the gemora that Haman's grandchildren
learned Torah in Bnei Brak," replied R' Meir, "and here you
are saying that your grandchildren will never do so —
surely your wickedness does not chas vesholom exceed
that of Haman?"
Left with nothing to answer, the man donated a large sum for
When Rabbi Meir was in America, another godol had
come from Poland for the same purpose of collecting much
needed funds. They were both called to a certain town to put
forward their cause. The other rov gave a brilliant and
eloquent speech, whose underlying message implied the cause
he was there for.
Then came the turn of Rabbi Meir Shapira. "Rabbosai,"
announced R' Meir, "after those wonderful divrei
Torah, I'll just relate a short story.
"A while after I got married, my father-in-law showed me
around his estates from one end of the city to the other. At
one entrance to the town he had a guard posted as a toll
keeper. The fellow, who was deaf, stood straight as a sentry
and proclaimed the fee loud and clear to each wagon driver
passing through. To a driver with one horse drawing the
wagon, so-and-so much; with two horses, so-and-so, a simpler
cart, a lesser fee, a grand carriage, a greater sum, and so
"When the wagon drivers tried to argue about the price or
haggle it down, the deaf man would point to his ear,
signaling that he doesn't hear or comprehend and would
repeat the charge in a stronger, clearer voice that demanded
obedience. Left with no choice, the drivers paid their dues
and drove on.
"Astonished, I turned to my father-in-law. `Have you no one
but this deaf man to appoint for this job?' I asked.
"Without answering, my father-in-law motioned me to follow
him to another toll gate, at the opposite side of the city.
There we found a long line of wagon drivers with their
respective vehicles, each one shouting for attention,
bartering and arguing with the toll keeper. The latter
listened to each one's argument, argued back — and
total confusion reigned, with nobody passing through the
gate, everybody being late for work and much time and money
lost in the process.
" `Now you understand why I have the deaf man at the other
gate,' said my father-in-law. `I would gladly pay to have
another one like him here too!' "
Rabbi Meir addressed the congregation, his voice ringing
out. "Rabossai! This great rov gave a long, eloquent speech
in order to arouse in your hearts a feeling towards our
causes. I am left now like the deaf man, without grand
oration and cryptic parables. I'll just tell you clearly. We
have a yeshiva. We need money for the boys in the yeshiva.
Whoever has hundreds of dollars should donate such and such
a sum, he who has thousands should donate a greater amount,
and so on. I'll repeat this clearly a few times and the
matter will surely be settled with all of you!"
Towards the end of his life, Rabbi Meir said in a
drosho in Warsaw to a crowd of thousands, "Rabossai,
know that I have already long finished my personal, private
life. I have nothing personal to live for anymore, for I
have completed my own mission as a man. I am now living
solely for the sake of the holy yeshiva."