Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Shevat 5764 - February 18, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








HaRav Moshe Schwab -- His 25th Yahrtzeit

by Mrs. G. Levenberg

"R' Moshe." The very name conjures up a smile. The Rebbe who molded so many, whose warmth and vitality endeared him to all; Master of the human psyche, father to the orphaned both in flesh and spirit, beloved by pupils and peers alike; An educator in every sense of the word. Who was this great man?

R' Moshe Schwab was born in Frankfurt-am-Main on the 15th of Nisan 5677 (1917) to R' Yehuda (Leopold) and Hanna Schwab (nee Erlanger) in a home that was imbued with a great love of Torah and chessed, a home that produced five worthy sons, three of whom later became gedolei Yisroel.

It was unusual indeed that R' Moshe, a product of German- Jewish society, was sent to learn in Lithuanian style yeshivos. But he had been preceded in this path by his elder brothers: R' Shimon who had learned in the yeshivos of Telz and Mir, and R' Mordechai who followed suit.

R' Moshe learned first in Kaminetz under the tutelage of R' Boruch Ber Leibowitz and then in Baranovitch under R' Elchonon Wassermann, where he became extremely close to, and was greatly influenced by, the mashgiach, R' Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky.

During his last year in Baranovitch, R' Moshe went to ask R' Yisroel Yaakov where he should spend Elul. He advised him to go to the Mir (even though he himself was a Novardoker), since he would be better off there. Indeed, although R' Moshe was only there for a very short while, the time that he spent in the Mir, that included the last Elul of R' Yeruchom's life, affected all of the many sichos that he would later deliver.

Whilst still a bochur in yeshiva, a gifted friend once informed him that he was leaving yeshiva to go to work. R' Moshe wished him hatzlochoh and returned to his learning.

Later, upon reflection, he recalled the ma'amar Chazal which says: "Whoever leaves You (Hashem) leaves life." Then he realized that his friend was literally leaving his Life Source and he had just casually wished him hatzlocho. He ran back and explained this with all of its ramifications, leaving his friend so overwhelmed by his concern that he stayed and eventually became a greatly admired rosh yeshiva.

When his parents were forced to leave Germany and move to England, they let R' Moshe make his own decision regarding his future. On Simchas Torah the decision was made. This was a day of great spiritual his'orerus in the Mir, when R' Yeruchom would honor each talmid with the opportunity to hold the sefer Torah. When his turn came, he held onto it with all of his might and made a resolution that he would henceforth devote his entire life to Torah.

Any doubts that might have remained were completely resolved shortly after Simchas Torah. As he attempted to compose a letter to his parents informing them of his decision, he was interrupted by a knock at his door. Upon answering it, he found himself being addressed by one of the venerable talmidei chachomim of Baranovitch, who had travelled specifically to deliver an important message to him.

It seems that this man had had a recurrent dream, in which he was instructed by an elderly man, to tell Moshe Schwab; "Mashiv Horuchniyus uMorid Hagashmiyus" (He raises the spiritual and lowers the material). This was a play on the words that we begin saying on Shemini Atzeres (the day before Simchas Torah in chutz la'aretz), when we praise Hashem for bringing rain. Moshe asked for details as to the appearance of the elderly person in the dream, but the man didn't know who he was. However, when he was shown a selection of photographs, he picked out R' Avrohom Erlanger -- grandfather of R' Moshe!

In 5698 (1938), R' Moshe returned to Kaminetz, but due to his being a German citizen he was given orders to leave the country. So began his move to England, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

To England

On arrival in London, he learned at R' Schneider's Yeshiva where he undertook to raise the level of learning to that of those he had just recently left. In this vein he set up chaburos together with a friend to discuss the gemoras they were currently learning. He also circulated his notes of R' Boruch Ber's shiurim in Kaminetz.

He also did not neglect the physical needs of his fellow bochurim, who were typically joining the yeshiva as refugees and were often penniless. He set up a student aid fund to collect and purchase clothing for them. (This was known as a TAT -- an abbreviation for Tomchei Torah -- probably the first of its kind in England.)

When war broke out, he was interned on the Isle of Man, once more due to his German citizenship. Yet again, he did not neglect the needs of the time and set up a yeshiva with great emphasis on hasmodoh. He delivered shiurim based on those of his great rebbe, R' Boruch Ber.

As soon as he could, he left those parts and returned to his parents in London where he was privileged to save their lives from the bombs that were falling during that time in the following manner. On his return, his parents expressed their concern about their personal belongings, which would be open to looters if they went into a bomb shelter. R' Moshe made a quick decision and began to arrange their possessions bit by bit and carried them all down to the shelters. Only when all was safely put away did he invite his parents to join him, which they then did wholeheartedly.

Incredibly, only a short time later a bomb flattened the entire house that they had only recently evacuated. In the zchus of his perfect mitzvah of Kibbud Av vo'Eim, they were all saved.

His next move was to Letchworth, where he met R' Dessler, who asked him to join him in his new kollel in Gateshead. This was a calling which R' Moshe gladly accepted, despite his unmarried status.

A Beginning in Gateshead

This was the beginning of a new era, when R' Moshe rose to the call of the hour and became the beloved mashgiach Of the world-famous Gateshead Yeshiva, to whom so many of today's Torah personalities are indebted. In addition, R' Moshe joined the hanholoh of the renowned Gateshead Seminary where he delivered rousing and inspirational shiurim. He believed in the importance of educating girls who would feel privileged to marry bnei Torah.

He became very close to R' Dessler, and absorbed his teachings and entire way of life. The feeling was mutual, as is evident from a letter sent to him by R' Dessler asking him to find him a room for the night, in which he wrote: "If you do not manage, I will stay with you and rest on your chair, as I would rather sit in a chair and talk with you than have a bed with many pillows."

In 1942 he met and married his Rebbetzin -- Rochel Baddiel tblc"t -- daughter of the late R' Dovid Baddiel one of the founding members of the Gateshead Kehilla, in what may have been the first kollel wedding in England. R' Dovid was referred to by R' Elchonon Wassermann as, "der kleiner Chofetz Chaim,' after his having met him on a visit to Gateshead.

There is a famous story told about the bridge between Newcastle and Gateshead. Every Friday, R' Dovid would pay the toll keeper a few copper coins so that he would allow any Jew who needed to pass over the bridge to do so on Shabbos without paying the toll. It happened that a man crossed over the bridge whilst smoking a cigarette on the holy day, expecting to do so without paying. The toll keeper called out: "Mr Baddiel didn't pay for the likes of you. He only does so for those who keep the Sabbath and you're smoking!"

On Purim night before R' Dovid was niftar, he suddenly called out, "Avrohom, Avrohom," after not having spoken for several days. When his sons-in- law asked what he was referring to, he murmured in a trance-like voice: "Avrohom Ovinu, Avrohom Ovinu!"

R' Moshe only agreed to leave kollel to become Mashgiach after consulting with three prominent gedolim: R' Dessler, R' Yechezkel Abramsky and R' Elya Lopian.

He joined the Yeshiva in 1946. There were a mere sixty pupils. The concept of staying in a yeshiva for a long period of time was almost unknown to these boys and likewise to their parents, who were eagerly awaiting the day that their children would join the workforce. It was, then, the difficult task of the roshei yeshiva -- and particularly the Mashgiach, R' Moshe -- to engender a love for Torah and its way of life: to learn, to continue learning and to spread Torah amongst others.

Despite his young age, he was remarkably successful with his talmidim. His warmth and openness were the key to his uncanny ability to sense the true reason behind each boy's problem.

This was particularly evident with regard to those who had recently arrived from the concentration camps, notably Thereisenstadt, who boarded at a hostel in Gateshead which had been set up for them. Many attempts on the part of others had been rebuffed. But R' Moshe persevered where others had long given up hope. He nurtured and instilled hope in these boys who had suffered so much.

When he heard that some of the bochurim were from Chassidic homes, he would stop by on Friday nights and sing niggunim with them to remind them of home, thus penetrating the hard outer shells that they had built to protect themselves, and giving them a chance to build a better future. His involvement did not leave them, even after they had left yeshiva. He helped them arrange marriages, set up homes and even assisted them in finding a means of livelihood.

A talmid recalled the time when he was awarded a monetary prize for excelling in his studies. This talmid wanted to learn Torah lishmoh and did not want to be rewarded for his learning. The Hanholoh member who presented the prize was taken aback at his refusal to accept it, as this was something that was unheard of previously. R' Moshe, with his great intuition, grasped the situation immediately and advised the bochur to accept the prize.

After the boy left the room, R' Moshe met him outside and then explained to him that it would not have been right to embarrass a member of the Hanholoh, despite his honorable intentions. However, since he did not want to accept the money and wanted to learn lishmoh he should give the money to him and he would distribute it to the tzedokoh of his choice. The talmid responded that it made no difference which tzedokoh it went to, as he wanted nothing to do with the money.

R' Moshe opened his frock coat and contemplated in which pocket to place the money. On seeing this, the bochur respectfully asked what each of the four pockets was used for. R' Moshe replied that one was for hachnosas kallah and one was for needy families -- and then he stopped in mid- sentence and would not continue any further. The boy remains inspired to this day by the fact that every pocket was used for a mitzvah and that no one would ever have known about it had he not chanced to find out via this incident. This talmid is one of the leading philanthropists in the English community today who supports many Torah institutions -- and he still learns Torah lishmoh as his Rebbe inspired him to do.

Many talmidim were wont to say that they felt closer to R' Moshe than to their own fathers, for they could confide in him freely and his manner towards each pupil was that of, "Chanoch lana'ar al pi darko." He was never judgmental and would guide them gently rather than forcefully.

This was evident from an anecdote related by one of his talmidim who was a senior bochur in yeshiva, when he decided to skip mussar shmuess one morning and took some younger boys with him to play football. On his return, he attempted to re-enter the yeshiva via a different entrance. Imagine his surprise at finding himself face to face with none other than the Mashgiach himself!

Aware that it was bad enough to have skipped the shmuess, and even worse to have set such a bad example to these younger boys, he waited in trepidation to hear what R' Moshe would have to say. His surprise was even greater on hearing the Mashgiach's response: "If you are in need of exercise, then play a gentleman's game like cricket, but don't play football for that belongs to the gentile world." This reply, soft-spoken and with a total lack of anger, left an impression on this talmid that remains to this day.

Yet another incident is told of this genuine understanding that every person is different and cannot be made to fit into a pre-shaped mold. A lady had a son who wanted to learn in yeshiva, but he also wanted to be able to take along his guitar. No yeshiva at the time was willing to accept him with his guitar, but when R' Moshe heard this he agreed for him to come to Gateshead. Upon his arrival, R' Moshe showed him to the beis hamedrash and said, "This is where we learn."

Then he took him to a small side room elsewhere and said, "And this is where you can play your guitar!"

A talmid who arrived in Gateshead from overseas relates that he owes his current career in chinuch to his Rebbe. When he was tested initially, he was not proficient in learning gemora. Yet when R' Moshe gave him a farher some time later, he sat back in amazement stating that he would not have believed it possible for him to have become so well-versed in such a short time.

In retrospect this talmid says that really he could not learn so well yet, but the encouragement given at this farher by R' Moshe boosted his confidence and inspired him to continue with his studies and helped him to become the great educator that he is today.

R' Moshe was a great ba'al bitochon and his constant smile encouraged even the most depressed in spirit. When his mother was seriously ill, he asked his son to join him one Shabbos afternoon in saying Tehillim for her recovery. When it came to LeDovid Hashem Ori and the words, Kavei el Hashem, he repeated them over and over, his eyes welling with tears. At the end of Shabbos they received the good news that she had taken a turn for the better and she lived for another eighteen months!

On Purim each year, he would sing, "Ivdu es Hashem Besimcha," for great lengths of time for, as he was wont to say, only when one has immersed himself in that niggun can he become truly inspired.

His sense of love for his fellow Jew extended even to those who were totally unaffiliated. If he would see someone who looked Jewish as he was out walking, he would engage him in conversation and try to kindle a spark in his heart. On one occasion when this occurred in a town not far from Gateshead, the man with whom he had been speaking about earlier times suddenly changed direction when they finished speaking. When questioned about this, he replied that he had been on his way to a treife restaurant but found that he could not continue there after speaking with R' Moshe!

A bochur who had been a mechalel Shabbos was accepted to the Yeshiva and became a great lamdan due to the Mashgiach's hashpo'oh. Subsequently he served as a rosh kollel!

His non-judgmental attitude was the secret of his success and often achieved far more than severe words would have. His talmidim attest to the fact that he was truly a master of human nature. This was apparent in an incident that occurred when R' Leib Gurwicz, the rosh hayeshiva, used to give the fifth shiur.

R' Leib had a very mild and pleasant personality and yet the bochurim were in awe of him. A bochur once approached R' Moshe after learning at the Yeshiva for only one month and informed him that he was leaving because he had no chavrusa and wasn't happy there. R' Moshe put his head in his hands, thought for some time and then said: "I'll ask R' Leib not to say, `Zog iber' to you."

The bochur remarked after this meeting that he felt that the Mashgiach had taken a weight off his shoulders as he knew what was really bothering him without being told.

In another incident a bochur mentioned to R' Moshe that he had a ta'avoh to watch television at home during bein hazmanim. R' Moshe advised him to conquer the yetzer hora in a roundabout way and treat it as muktza. He would not be allowed to touch it or to change channels. If it was on when he came in, he would be allowed to watch it, but only if someone else was present and he was never allowed to put it on himself. Sure enough, the bochur eventually gave it up completely.

He was honest with his own avodas Hashem and often mentioned points to the bochurim which he had worked on at various times. He once told them that a rich girl had been suggested to him as a possible shidduch. Although nothing came of it, it helped him to make a decision that if he were ever to become rich, he would take it upon himself never to sit on a chair with a back!

Incidentally, it may be noteworthy to mention here, that his father R' Yehuda (Leopold) davened that he should never have the yoke of wealth, something which shows the strength of his personality. With such aspirations, it is not surprising that he was blessed with children who were gedolei Yisroel.

When his father was niftar, the family asked the Chazon Ish (who was niftar within the same year in 1953), whether he should be buried in Eretz Yisroel. He responded, "Tzaddikim yesh lohem menuchoh beChutz Lo'Oretz."

He was the quintessential ba'al bitochon and although as a mashgiach he carried the problems of three hundred boys on his shoulders, he was not a troubled or worried person. On the contrary, his face always wore an encouraging smile and his greetings warmed the hearts of all.

A bochur once came to R' Moshe and informed him excitedly that he had just become a chosson. R' Moshe congratulated him in his usual warm manner and then asked him whether he had purchased a present for the kallah. The boy did not respond, from which R' Moshe deduced that he did not have the means to do so. He directed him to a well-known jeweler, instructed him to choose a gift and to put it on his account.

His talmidim put out a sefer that was a collection of his shmuessen called Ma'archei Lev. This totaled four volumes, three of which focus on moadim and one of which is al haTorah.

When it came to standing up for the emes, R' Moshe was not afraid to state his opinion, as is evident when he attended a conference of rabbis where a speaker made a statement that was contrary to Chazal. R' Moshe stood up, pounded on the table and quoted the ma'amar Chazal, saying later that if Chazal are contradicted, one must protest and if the statement is made publicly, it must be decried in public too.

Likewise, whilst collecting for the yeshiva, he once found the door slammed in his face, an occurrence which found him in a nearby phone-box, calling the homeowner concerned to explain that such an action was not correct and showed a lack of respect for Torah. He returned to the house, was greeted warmly and received a sizable donation.

Chinuch in the Family

Despite being an extremely busy person, occupied with matters of the klal for most of his waking hours, R' Moshe was very much a family man. His daughter recalls the wonderful Shabbos experience which they were privy to each week.

Each Friday night he would climb onto a chair behind the door, using it as his stage, with dolls as puppets, to teach them the sedrah and also as an educational medium to relay any lesson which he felt they needed to hear. This indirect method of teaching was very powerful and its effects are felt to this day. His eldest daughter tells of the time when she was permitted to stay up and watch her father being ma'avir Sedrah at the age of six or seven. Her task was to turn the pages of the Chumash when necessary and to keep pace with her father to ensure that they were turned at exactly the right moment. The excitement that this engendered has remained with her all these years.

He would carry each child from the kitchen up the stairs each Friday night, whilst singing, "Lecho Hashem hagedula vehagvura," thus making this weekly bedtime into a cherished experience, as each child eagerly awaited his or her turn.

A child recalls one time when, at the age of sixteen, she wanted to read a book that had recently been published and was widely acclaimed by all. As it was not yet available at the local library, she placed her name on the waiting list and eagerly scanned the mail each day, awaiting the news of its arrival. The day that it appeared in their post box, R' Moshe happened to retrieve the day's mail.

Approaching her with the library notice card, he said simply: "I know that I cannot forbid you from reading it, because if I do, you will read it under your pillow or elsewhere. However, I trust you that you will not read it because you know that it is full of unsuitable material."

His daughter proudly states that she did not read the book -- not for lack of interest but purely because of her father's statement of trust. He was a mechanech par excellence, knowing that if he had forbidden it, his comments would have been totally ineffective. By placing the ball in her court, he achieved the desired effect!

Until this day, this has proved to be the most effective educational tool in the chinuch of her children and has been implemented by her, time and again.

On Pesach night before the Seder, R' Moshe would prepare explanations on the Haggodoh for his children. He would tell them: "I want you to feel as though you actually went out of Mitzrayim."

When singing Hallel, he said it so loudly that it seemed as though every bone in his body were crying out. It was literally as though his soul were leaving his body.

A daughter reminisces about her teenage years when she was alone at home and the doorbell rang. Absorbed in her book, she conveniently ignored the interruption and continued her reading. Upon her father's return, he asked if anyone had rung. Sheepishly, she admitted that someone had and that she had not responded. His only response was: "Maybe it was Eliyahu Hanovi."

Once again the message struck the right chord and was well received without confrontation. What a profound lesson in chinuch!

His father, R' Yehuda (Leopold), once punished one of his sons by withholding his customary jam at breakfast the next morning. When they were all seated, he removed the jam from the table. The other children expressed their dismay at having to suffer as a result of their brother's misdemeanor. Their father wondered how they could eat jam in front of their brother who had to forgo it as a punishment.

His home was always busy. He had very little time for himself -- a fact which led one of his family to ask: "Don't they even give you two minutes to eat?"

His response was characteristic of his selfless nature: "And if you knock on Hashem's door and beg for your needs, don't you want Him to be available at all times?"

R' Moshe's daily schedule was rigorous. It began at 5.30 a.m. with a kvius which he had with a member of the Kehilloh. This was maintained for some twenty-five years. He also had an evening kvius devoted to talmidim who needed special attention, e.g. bringing a bochur up to par.

He delivered a morning shiur on gemora using the methodology of R' Elchonon Wassermann, R' Chaim Brisker and R' Boruch Ber. He would deliver a shmuess three times a week to a different class each time. He conducted a daily vaad, focusing on different topics of hashkofoh. He returned home between 2 and 2:15 p.m. at which time the vaadim would commence, followed by private counselling sessions with boys. In the evening he would return home between 8:45 and 9 p.m. He began preparing the next day's shiur at 9.15 p.m. At 11 p.m. his chessed program would commence and continue for many long hours. This was often resumed pre-dawn.

Whilst walking between home and the Yeshiva, he would repeat tractates of mishnah that he had committed to memory.

He never refused a mitzvah that came his way and held this as his credo. He strongly believed that if one acts lesheim Shomayim, he is endowed with siyata deShmaya to see it through to its completion. He often said that the less one talks about what he is doing the better, because as soon as one feels ga'avoh (self-importance), he loses all of his zchusim. He truly practiced what he preached.

When asked why he displayed so many photographs of his children and grandchildren in his home, he replied that he wanted to be constantly reminded of the blessings Hashem had sent him. Indeed, at each of his children's weddings he opened his address with the words: "Mo oshiv laHashem."

Three weeks before his petiroh, he was diagnosed with a serious illness. His situation deteriorated rapidly to everyone's shock and dismay -- and yet R' Moshe remained the same ba'al mussar as ever, greeting every visitor to his hospital bed, with his warm, all-embracing smile.

Even in his final days when he could barely see, he asked the identity of each person, wanting to thank them personally for coming. He left this world as he came, with a shem tov, all-abiding love for his fellow man and constant gratitude to his Creator for all the good He had bestowed upon him.

Truly a living mussar sefer.


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