Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Ellul 5766 - August 30, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Beacon of Torah Hashkofoh: The Immortal Influence of Reb Moshe Sheinfeld zt'l, and His Writings

by R' Yisroel Spiegel

Part II

Reb Moshe Sheinfeld's thirty-first yahrtzeit is on the eighth of Elul. This appreciation was written by Rabbi Spiegel who was a colleague and close friend of Rabbi Sheinfeld.

The first part mainly discussed Rabbi Sheinfeld and his times, including the electrifying impact that his writings made at the time.

This part of the article is perhaps most relevant to Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur since it incorporates a glimpse of a less familiar aspect of his inner world — his prayer. Some of his insights into the prayers of the Yomim Noraim follow this appreciation of his tremendous influence on an entire generation or, more correctly, several generations.


The Voice of Eternity

It was quite some time before I realized that Reb Moshe's ideas and views formed a well-ordered system. Not only were there no contradictions between the things that he wrote, one piece actually complemented another. There were articles that I read at the time of publication and many others that I read long after they'd been published — I read them repeatedly and continue to do so to this day.

On every reading there are additional points that become clear and new nuances that emerge. I became surer and surer that Reb Moshe was no ordinary character. Gedolei Yisroel testified that his pen was a font of daas Torah, a cruse of the pure oil of Torah hashkofoh. He swam against the current, giving expression to that which the gedolim knew in their hearts.

At this point I ask forgiveness for `plagiarizing' but the following quotes are actually from an article that I wrote myself. Here are two extracts from a piece that I wrote immediately after Reb Moshe's petiroh. It was published in Digleinu in Tishrei 5736 and also appears in my book Bederech Hamelech.

"He was unique in his ability to prevent his writing being swept along in contemporary currents, with fickle fads or superficial changes. Authentic Torah hashkofoh, with its ring of eternal, unchanging truth, was always at the core of his tempestuous and rousing articles. He was never a partner to the various trends that rippled even through Torah and chareidi circles, of conceding erroneous perceptions of the events that befell the Jewish People in the past generation. There seemed to be stubbornness or perhaps even rigidity in this attitude of his. The truth however is, that it stemmed from his unique ability to pierce all the veils and screens that hide the constant, unchanging character of Judaism, that is not subject to any of the principles that govern the ebb and flow of general history.

"The claim that many among the current generation are greatly indebted to him for the pure Torah hashkofoh that they have received is well founded. Many are unaware of this and might find the idea irritating. Yet the shafts of light that radiated from his articles found their way into the soul of Torah faithful Jewry via subtle, invisible channels that were independent of the usual routes for the distribution of newsprint.

"His readership was principally composed of bnei Torah and bnei yeshiva. They translated his views into the language of their own thought and outlook. Over the years, as they formed the bedrock of the growing edifice of chareidi Jewry, they automatically spread his views and outlook in the things they said and did, in their approach and in their attitudes. Many, many others absorbed this from them, without being aware of the source from whence these waters flowed."

The Pamphlet: Our Father's Prayers

HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman ylct'a, was a neighbor and a close friend of Reb Moshe Sheinfeld. He once commented, "It's impossible to understand how he was able to write like that without having witnessed his prayer, which was that of a tzaddik and a man of stature."

Each year, upon returning from beis haknesses on the Yomim Noraim, Reb Moshe Sheinfeld zt'l would tell his children the ideas and insights that he'd had on the day's prayers. These were really sparks of light that leaped from the flame that burned unceasingly within his heart. They were the very essence of his prayers, of his entreaties and supplications, his yearning and longing and of his songs and praises, that assumed the form of insights and explanations of the words of prayer in the siddur. He never intended to provide a commentary to the siddur; he simply expressed the prayer within his heart, as it found expression in the words of the siddur. Every day's prayers and each of the day's prayers has a new and different meaning.

The vast majority of these insights were not committed to writing and, over the years, were forgotten by the members of his family. There were years however, when Reb Moshe would make notes after Rosh Hashonoh, to aid his own memory. His family used these notes to prepare a booklet containing his insights into tefilloh. These ideas afford a glimpse into the world of Reb Moshe's prayer, through which the purity of his soul and the spiritual vision that he carried within him can be discerned. They show something of his depth of thought, of the uplifting way he viewed the creation and of the unique bond between Hakodosh Boruch Hu and Yisroel that filled his entire being.

Last year, on the occasion of his thirtieth yahrtzeit, the family printed copies of the booklet for private distribution. At Yated Ne'eman's request they gave their consent to our revealing a little of the inner world of the man who helped shape the chareidi community's world.

Their consent was not given readily; they preferred the self- effacement that Reb Moshe maintained during his lifetime. For the public's benefit though, to help their tefillos ascend heavenward and be accepted, they agreed to share their treasures.


Rosh Hashonoh

On Rosh Hashonoh Reb Moshe's children witnessed their father's prayers, his melodies, his weeping and the song of his soul. There he stood, between the bookcases on the western wall, his tall figure concealed within his tallis, weaving a fabric of worship of his Creator as he exchanged tear-soaked handkerchiefs for dry ones at a rapid pace.

All the yeshiva's heads and students had long since ended their prayers. The talmidim had filed past their teachers, exchanged warm blessings for a good new year. It was all over; now the talmidim were already sitting down to their Yom Tov meal while Reb Moshe's children were still riveted to their father at prayer. He was still saying Uvechein tein pachedecho.

They drank in his melodies, absorbed his entreaties and sang "and You have exalted us over all other nations" along with him. Reb Moshe stood there at his post, alone, unable to break his soul's communion with its Creator. Only when he returned home — when the bnei hayeshiva were already returning to the beis hamedrash to learn after their meal — did his yearning pierce the heavens as he recited Ledovid mizmor. That was when his family felt that they were witnessing the coronation of the world's King in a way that they had never before experienced it.

It was the same the following day; his tefillos ended hours after those of the bnei hayeshiva. Reb Moshe's family heard him sing Unesaneh Tokef to his awe- inspiring melodies at home in the late afternoon before he made kiddush. The tremendous power of Reb Moshe's Unesaneh Tokef probably had no comparison. It simply cannot be described and it would be a shame to limit it by attempting to put it into words. Anyone who was fortunate enough to hear it discovered that it became a permanent fixture in his soul.

Yom Kippur

On Yom Kippur night the river of tears completely burst its banks. Reb Moshe's back trembled and shuddered beneath his tallis as he sang, exalted, wept and beseeched, his prayer piercing the heavens, descending to the depths, gathering scattered sparks and mending broken shards. It was as though a pillar of fire ascended heavenward from his place, piercing the darkness as it soared to the heights.

The bnei hayeshiva were resting, gathering their strength for the morrow. The last of them had already finished saying Shir Hayichud and the first four chapters of Tehillim. But Reb Moshe's children remained next to their father, hidden between the bookcases, experiencing with him the open heavens whose gates stood open to take in the towering pillar of fire.

Reb Moshe didn't move from his place throughout Yom Kippur. From the beginning of the tefilloh until after ma'ariv on motzei Yom Kippur, the atmosphere around his place churned and seethed like the open mouth of a volcano. We traversed worlds in the course of that day and felt that we were immersing ourselves after him in a river of fire.

The children write: "We wrenched forth an awe-inspiring entreaty at the gates that were about to close as the skies began to darken, pounding away relentlessly with our prayer that we be sealed for life."

The sun set amid the cries of Yidden for forgiveness before the day ended. Reb Moshe's children felt as though he was no longer with them. He was somewhere up there, far away. He was standing next to them to be sure and they could hear his voice but he was in the upper worlds, before the Throne of Glory, wholly immersed in "Yisroel's mikveh" who lovingly purifies and cleanses His People, Yisroel.

While praying, Reb Moshe was oblivious to the fast, to tiredness, to hunger and to thirst. If he could have had two days of Yom Kippur it wouldn't have been long enough for him. Someone who overheard Reb Moshe's prayer from an angle that his children did not hear it, told them, "Do you know at which point in the tefilloh your father utterly melted, turning into water? In Shir Hakovod, when he said, `May the song of the poor man be as precious in Your eyes as the song that is sung over Your offerings.' That was when his whole being literally became null and void. Like melting wax, he poured his soul entirely into Hashem's embrace."

His prayer was not just the outpouring of his heart and soul. It involved his mind as well. It was a subtle interplay of intellect and imagination, of knowledge and awareness, of effusion and emotion.

Here are some of his thoughts and insights on the tefillos of the Yomim Noraim that he committed to writing.

Zochreinu Lechaim

"Zochreinu lechaim — Remember us for life;" for a life of Torah, because "the wicked are called `dead' even in their lifetimes."

Remember only the good deeds that we have done, in whose merit we deserve life.


"Melech Chofetz bachaim — King, who desires life," as it says, "for I do not desire a dead man's death" (Yechezkel 18:32) referring to the wicked man who is dead during his lifetime. Even though You are King of the wicked as well as of the righteous, You have advised us to "choose life" (Devorim 30:19) which means observing the Torah.

"Who desires life," because He created and wanted there to be a world, where no life had existed beforehand, only emptiness and desolation.


"Vechosveinu besefer hachaim — And inscribe us in the Book of Life." This refers to the sefer Torah, for whoever observes it is recorded in one of its letters. The letters of Yisroel are the initials of the words "yesh shishim ribo osios laTorah" (There are six hundred thousand letters in the Torah).


"Lema'anecho Elokim chaim — For Your sake, living G- d." Our lives should be lived for Your sake and we should thus be worthy of them, not meriting life just through mercy but also according to the attribute of justice, alluded to by the Name Elokim.

"For Your sake" is parallel to the phrase, "for the sake of His Name, in love" (Amidah, bircas Ovos).

Mi Komocho Av Horachamim

"Mi komocho Av Horachamim — Who is like You, Father of mercy." With respect to justice, You are an owner, a master. But when it comes to mercy, You are a father, who begets offspring and bestows an abundance of mercy, as a father does to his children in his great mercy. The word rachamim, mercy, is related to rechem, womb, for a mother who gives birth has more compassion on her child.


"Zocheir yetzurov lechaim berachamim — Who remembers His creatures for life, in mercy." Inscribing us for life isn't enough, for there is a kind of life to which death is preferable. The commentators explain [the reason given by Chazal why Hallel is not said on Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur, because,] "The books of the living and the dead are open in front of Him; shall you utter song?" (Arachin 10). Understandably, song is inappropriate while the books of the dead are open but why are the open books of the living given as a reason for not saying Hallel? It's because there is a kind of life that is worse than death. Decree life for us then, with compassion.

Another explanation might be that we should live our lives having merciful hearts within us.

"Who remembers 'yetzurov,' the impulses that He implanted." In order to judge us for life remember the burning yetzer that You put inside us, as the posuk says, "And You have turned their hearts backward" (Melochim I 18:37). The posuk, "and I shall remember the Land" (Vayikra 26:42) can be explained in the same way. When judging man I shall remember that he was created from the land, from the earth. What can one demand of a lump of earth?

Uvechein Tein Kovod

"Uvechein tein kovod Hashem le'amecho — Therefore, Hashem, give Your People honor." What honor do we ask for? Hashem's honor. Yisroel's honor brings about Heaven's honor.

Another explanation could be, "Torah is the only honor" (Ovos 6:3). Give us Torah.

Or, "Give Your People an awareness of their self-worth and the respect that is due to them as the Chosen People" for "the House of Yisroel is not like all the nations."


"Tehilloh liyerei'echo — Praise to those who fear You." What does a person who fears Heaven seek? He wants to know how to praise You.


"Vesikvo tovoh ledorshecho — and positive hope to those who seek You." Even those who seek You during the days of mercy — "seek Hashem when He can be found" (Yeshayohu 55:6) — should be neither shamed nor disappointed. Put hope into their hearts so that they can find You, in the same way as the Kotzker Rebbe explained the posuk, "and you will seek Hashem from there and you will find, when you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul" (Devorim 4:29). When you seek the Creator what will you find? You will find yourselves seeking Him "with all your heart and with all your soul." That will be your reward, that extra seeking and searching for Him.


"Ufischon peh lameyachalim Loch — And an opportunity for those who long for You to speak." For those who are on a lower level, who do not even actively seek you but are gripped at times by longing for you and hope that Your light will break into their souls. Give them an opportunity. They are akin to the son who does not know how to ask, about whom we are told, "You open a discussion with him" (Haggodoh shel Pesach).

Another explanation of "those who long for you" could be, for all those who have longed for You throughout the years of exile and were mocked by the deniers. Now they shall have a defense, when You, our King, reveal Yourself before all living creatures.


"Simchoh le'artzecho — joy to Your Land." At present the Land mourns because its holiness is being profaned, for Eretz Yisroel is the Land of life and it is capable of feeling both pain and joy.


"Va'arichas ner leVen Yishai meshichecho — arrangement for the rule of the descendant of Dovid, Your anointed one." [Arichas ner can also be understood to mean preparing a lamp for lighting.] Ribono Shel Olom, behave in the same way as the head of a Jewish home who, on erev Shabbos prepares and sets out the candles in anticipation of Shabbos. You also, prepare the candle in advance of the "day that is completely Shabbos" [i.e. following Moshiach's arrival], as the posuk says, "I have arranged rule for My anointed one" [which can also mean "I have prepared a lamp"] (Tehillim 132:17).

"LeVen Yishai" Why is Moshiach referred to as Ben Yishai? Because he sits among the lepers at the gates of Rome (Sanhedrin 98). Just as Yishai did not dream that Shmuel would anoint Dovid as king, we too will be surprised to see who Moshiach will be. With regard to `tzemichas keren (elevating) it mentions leDovid avdecho, (Dovid, Your servant). Arichas ner though, is not for Dovid himself, for one of his descendants will be Moshiach.


"Bimheiroh beyomeinu — Speedily, in our days." We all believe that we will merit Moshiach's arrival and ask that he should come soon, not just "in our days."

Bimheiroh, speedily, not in Your terms of speed, because, "in Your eyes, a thousand years are like a day gone by'" (Tehillim 90:4) but in what we think of as speed. This is what beyomeinu means — in our terms.

Uvechein Tzaddikim

"Uvechein tzaddikim yir'u veyismochu — Therefore the righteous shall see and rejoice." This is the continuation of bimheiroh beyomeinu. Don't choliloh, wait until the entire generation is guilty. Bring Moshiach while there are still tzaddikim and wholehearted, upright, pious men around, who will see him and rejoice.

Tzaddikim, whose merits outweigh their sins `will see, yir'u' which is related to yir'oh, fear, on account of their sins; they will be glad. On the other hand, yeshorim, the upright — as the posuk says, "And G-d made man upright" (Koheles 7:29) "and you shall do what is good and upright" (Devorim 6:18) — ya'alozu, will be happy in their hearts. As for chassidim, pious men, who act with `kindness' towards their Creator, doing more than required according to law, berino yogilu, they will rejoice in song, loudly, with full voices.


"Ve'olosoh tikpotz pihoh — And sin will shut its mouth." Olosoh is related to ol, a yoke, for sin removed the yoke of Heaven's rule and imposed its yoke upon us.

When sin shuts its mouth, it will become clear to us that "kol horish'oh kuloh ke'oshon tichleh, all wickedness will disappear like smoke," for its only power is in enticing and inciting. In the future we will realize that it was like smoke, lacking substance, and that all desires are like smoke filling our minds, nothing more.

One thing is linked with another. When You give those who yearn for You an opportunity to speak, evil will shut its mouth.

Tikpotz — it will shut it all at once, in great shock.


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