Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Av 5766 - August 23, 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 I

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.

Belated Appreciation

Reb Moshe Sheinfeld zt'l, who passed away on the eighth of Elul, 5735, was one of those people whose greatness and uniqueness have become appreciated after his lifetime to a far greater extent than during it. During the period that he wrote and published his articles, he had only a narrow circle of supporters and sympathizers. With time though, more and more people began to see things his way and today it is hard for anybody in our community who reflects upon the various problems and troubles of our time, not to identify with his viewpoint.

Back then, not everyone would read what he wrote — and by no means did all who read what he wrote find his farsightedness, his penetrating analysis of events and his bold conclusions to be pleasurable reading. He actually had very few contemporary readers and in the thirty-one years that have elapsed since the flow of his ideas has ceased, a new generation has come of age that knows virtually nothing about him and his writings.

Some among the chareidi community's fifty-plus age might have become acquainted with what he wrote but probably very few recognized the breadth and the sharp clarity of his spiritual and ideological worldview. And again, not all of those who were aware of it at the time agreed with his opinions and the conclusions he drew.

My contemporaries and I remember — and in some cases still know — members of our community who ground their teeth in frustration whenever another of Reb Moshe's pieces appeared in Digleinu (the newspaper of Z.A.I. — Tze'irei Agudas Yisroel). He would take well-aimed shots; he would clarify and elucidate, present irrefutable truths and arrive at troubling and unpalatable conclusions. In an article published in Digleinu in 5710 (1950), Reb Moshe himself addressed the marked lack of sympathy that part of the chareidi public had for the nuggets of ideology that he presented in his articles.

"I know," he wrote, "that ideas such as these will not improve the public's opinion of me and that they will isolate me to be within a section of our own community — the ranks of Klal Yisroel's sincerely faithful. Nevertheless, `Great is he who compels others,' for his starting point is bold thought. Let us not pay attention to what people say, occupying ourselves instead with settling the community of the Torah faithful in the Holy Land.

"We shall raise the prestige of the Z.A.I. movement by establishing yeshivos kedoshos, exemplary kibbutzim, frameworks for holding on to our youth, increasing the number of our movement's branches and conscripting an army of counselors and educators. We shall take encouragement and draw courage from the saying of the Kotzker Rebbe, zy'a, ` "How great is Your goodness that You have hidden for those who fear You; that You have arranged for those who trust in You in the face of other people" (Tehillim 31:20). If Hashem wants to bestow bountiful goodness upon those who fear Him, He makes it appear as though they are opposed to other people.' "

Needless to say, over the years this attitude has changed completely. Reb Moshe's approach has become the accepted way of looking at things. Anyone who examines our current situation realistically and makes a genuine attempt to pinpoint its underlying causes cannot but reach the same conclusions that he reached. The only difference is that he already realized it fifty years ago, when today's reality was still somewhat veiled and indistinct and a penetrating vision was needed to be able to see how things would develop.

A Time of Confusion

I intend this article partly as a personal memoir, because no less important than portraying Reb Moshe as teacher of Torah hashkofoh to a bewildered generation, is portraying the environment of a typical chareidi youngster during the years immediately preceding and immediately following the establishment of the State. The emergence of an independent Jewish state had a captivating, magical aura about it. Its spell was powerful enough to give the impression that in consequence, we chareidim had to change.

Our chareidi youngster had many friends who felt the same way. In contrast to the huge numbers of chareidi youth who abandoned Torah and mitzvah observance entirely at this time, he remained within a religious framework. This was largely — perhaps wholly — due to the siyata deShmaya he had in belonging to the Tze'irei Agudas Yisroel family.

But even within Z.A.I. there were stark differences of opinion. While some of the members were captivated by Reb Moshe Sheinfeld's articles in Digleinu, others read every word of them but recoiled from his uncompromising "zealotry." They found other chareidi activists and writers who praised and extolled the State and tried to see it as having a life of its own, unconnected with Zionism — much more to their liking. Thus, Reb Moshe's repeated admonitions that this was in fact the most fearsome test of all simply annoyed and irritated them.

He would browbeat us and play on our heartstrings with such penetrating and searing articles as The Shechinah's Exile in Yisroel, in which he analyzed at length and elucidated Dr. Nathan Birnbaum's difficult idea of being "in exile among Jews." That, I remember, was the most annoying word of all — the assertion that we were still in exile and, what was worse, in exile among Jews, the harshest of all exiles!

Enough is Enough

The background to our way of thinking in those days should be better understood. The yishuv hayoshon [the old, deeply pious chareidi community that predated Zionist interest in the Land and was based mainly in Jerusalem] was utterly unprotected. Its youth were exposed to any and all of the scurrilous ideologies that could be encountered in the streets. Young chareidim did not refrain from singing the anthems of the Palmach, Etzel and Lechi [the Zionist paramilitary youth movements]: "Around us the storm rages but we shall not bow our heads . . ."

What `heroism' and `uprightness' that showed! The walls of houses in the chareidi neighborhoods were covered with the slogans of the underground movements denouncing "the British Oppressor." Which Jewish youngster from a penniless and poverty stricken home, who felt utterly downtrodden by the Arab insurgence and by the atrocious rumors of the destruction of European Jewry would not be enthralled at the prospect of a revival of Jewish might and heroism at long last?

How our hearts went out at the sight of a chareidi youngster with a bulge in his caftan caused, according to those in the know, by the pistol he was trying to conceal. For once and for all, such youngsters resolved, we have to shake off our ghetto mentality and give our pursuers and enemies what they deserve. Enough of this restraint. Enough of our mental and physical frailty. The time has come to act like heroes!

Then Reb Moshe would knock us on the head yet again with his preaching, warning us against "the worship of brute force that is cultivated in the army."

All that Glitters . . .

On the one hand he didn't refrain from writing the following. "There is no doubt that in these troubled times youths who have become estranged from Torah often display willingness to sacrifice their lives, showing sublime heroism and wondrous dedication that are borne of love for their fellow Jews and burning devotion to the Holy Land . . . Though their parents, teachers and guides have forcibly separated them from the heritage of Sinai, Jewish virtues still sparkle like jewels in their souls."

But a disclaimer followed directly. He immediately "spoiled" this high praise with a warning that the very beauty of this idyllic scene called for extra vigilance. "This vision, of which our members are close spectators and find so impressive, is liable to heighten their confusion, increasing their affinity for those with whom partnership poses spiritual dangers, leading them to forget that just as an aveiroh does not extinguish a mitzvah, neither does a mitzvah extinguish an aveiroh."

"What does he want?!" we'd ask ourselves in grumbling wonderment. "Why, just for once, can't he stay on a positive note until the end?"

If he'd already found something good to say about the Sabra youth, why did he have to go and spoil it with his warning? Did he always have to put a drop of vitriol into the intoxicating draught of heroism and self-sacrifice with which the Hebrew fighters defended their homeland?

Why, he even quoted the Chazon Ish's parable about an old man from the Chofetz Chaim's town who fell into a deep hole one black winter's night and was seriously injured. There was a Yid there who pulled him out, brought him into his home, bandaged him up and treated him until his injuries had healed. When the Chofetz Chaim met this man he told him, "I envy you for this great mitzvah that you have done."

To which the kind Yid replied, "Don't envy me. I dug the hole!"

How infuriating that parable was! Was that all he could find to say about those whom, many felt, had "after all actually achieved something"? At the end of the day, the State had "raised Jewish prestige in the eyes of the nations" at a time when we had been so humiliated and oppressed. Why did he have to spoil the celebration?

A Call for True Heroism

We would argue these points at our Z.A.I. meetings and in later years too, when we ourselves were engulfed by righteous indignation over the crimes of forced apostasy that were then being perpetrated in the immigrant camps. Our young blood seethed and demanded that action be taken. It wasn't enough to go to the camps and try to salvage something. We had to go slightly beyond that. After all, they were thugs and they deserved payment in the same coin that they used. That was the only way to get them to understand!

And again Reb Moshe was there but this time it seemed he was going to be "okay." What a provocative title he found for the article he wrote at the height of the furor over the attempt to force Sherut Leumi on chareidi girls: "We Shall Wear Them Down!"

It was a declaration of war, a heroic call. See, we thought to ourselves, he also thinks that it's impossible to get anywhere if you wear silk gloves. But after documenting the mischief and the crimes of the Zionists and their National Religious partners, all he had to offer us was that we should be prepared to go to jail! And with regard to any "unorthodox" operations on our part, he delivered the following stinging, unambiguous warning.

"We absolutely rule out any campaign that uses violent, underground methods or terror tactics. A Torah observant Jewish youth who espouses terror has the status of a pursuer of the Torah faithful community at large. Our teachers shlita have ruled that he is akin to a Jew who forges bank notes in a gentile country, who pursues Klal Yisroel and unwittingly fulfills the wishes of our mortal enemies, who seek libels and pretexts for sullying our reputation and endangering our existence (Menachem Av 5713).

Our Goals

The clear spiritual-ideological path that he mapped for himself and transmitted to his own and to future generations, cutting through the confusion and bewilderment that beset them, can be divined in a lecture that he delivered at a Z.A.I. meeting on Pesach 5713, from which the following excerpts are taken.

"We have no grandiose pretensions. It is not our intention to transform the way the world or society operates. We do not seek to tear down existing structures and offer ourselves as rebuilders, reshapers or pioneers, in the fashion of all the high-sounding and hackneyed slogans in whose aura all the various movements, and the youth movements in particular, glory.

"We are interested in the minority that also happens to be the focus of our present. We want to transmit untainted faith and Torah awareness that inoculate the soul against the atmosphere pervading the street, to the members — be they young or old — who are being educated within our structures. Ultimately we seek to inculcate a feeling of communal responsibility that prevents a person from resting on the laurels of spiritual egoism, coddling himself within his own self-perfection. That is our program for the individual.

"As an organization we strive for the most exalted level that any Jewish organization can attain — to act in an executive capacity for the plans and wishes of gedolei Yisroel, serving in their holy presence with energy, devotion, boldness and youthful vigor, their very essence being to give everything without seeking anything in exchange, any authority or honor.

"As a Torah movement, our first goal is to fill the severest breach in the wall around Yiddishkeit. Every generation has its breach: Hellenism, Saduccee-ism, Karaism, False Messiahs, Reform, Enlightenment, Secular Nationalism and materialistic Socialism. What they all have in common is rebellion against the Oral Torah and those who represent it - - the gedolei haTorah. It is not only `these stupid people, who rise to honor a sefer Torah but do not rise to honor a great scholar' (Makkos 22).

"All the rebel movements that have arisen throughout our history have expressed their admiration and love for the Written Torah, the sefer Torah resting in the aron hakodesh, from which they were able to adduce false support for their positions and in which they found backing for their empty ideas. The pesukim whose meaning they falsified uttered no cry of protest. All uprooters of Torah were able to delude themselves and those around them that they had not separated themselves from Klal Yisroel.

"Why, they still adhered to Torah traditions, or so it seemed. In their deranged arrogance they claimed that they were permitted to take issue with the Oral Torah, for they had no less a right to expound pesukim than did Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues.

"In our own day this rebelliousness has adopted a dangerous and hitherto unknown aspect. While earlier rebels clearly stood beyond the pale of traditional Judaism and dropped away from it irrevocably, in our time evil has risen up against Torah Jewry from within. Jews who keep Torah and mitzvos and also believe in the sanctity of the Oral Torah — studying the volumes of gemora in the bookcase as lovingly as they study the sefer Torah in the aron hakodesh — the faith of these Yidden in the Torah sages who live among us has become unsteady. Both privately and in groups they ask one another, `What use are the rabbonon?' showing no reluctance at being included among those termed by Chazal as heretics (Sanhedrin 99) by virtue of their question.

"In view of this weakening of faith in Torah sages, we must declare Zeirei Agudas Yisroel to be the movement of allegiance and unconditional obedience to our nation's spiritual luminaries.

"Let our kibbutz Kommemiyus show that our goal is a fitting crown for Z.A.I. We do not take pride in Kommemiyus because they have transformed a tract of barren land into a flourishing garden settlement, nor on account of its beautifully-built houses, or the sheaves of produce that are gathered from its fields, or the heroism they showed in standing up to enemies or the love and joy with which they accepted the suffering that settling Eretz Yisroel entails. Many settlements across the Holy Land can glory in the same virtues.

"But there is nowhere else like Kommemiyus, and it might possibly be the one and only holy community where Torah — as embodied by their Rov, the gaon — reigns without limitation, to such an extent. The Rov of Kommemiyus is more than just the rov of a beis haknesses. He is plainly and simply, the moro de'asra, the master of the place. Every aspect of life runs according to his instructions because there is no area or facet of life that Torah outlook does not encompass and apply to. Kommemiyus is a symbol and an example of how Z.A.I. implements Torah's rule . . .

"We hereby declare: Torah's rule is synonymous with the rule of the gedolei haTorah. We shall place ourselves under the authority of the gedolei haTorah and we shall then try to extend their authority to our colleagues and to all of Klal Yisroel."


Although Reb Moshe Sheinfeld zt'l, was recognized during his lifetime, this recognition broadened after his petiroh. It can certainly be said that over the years, the hashkofoh that he disseminated became public property. The undisputed proof is that on those occasions when incorrect ideas or opinions are voiced nowadays, I immediately go to the wellspring of his writings, read, compare and pinpoint the crookedness.

Such is the power of genuine, unbiased writing that, independent of situation and circumstances, always seeks to arrive at the eternal, Torah-truth, using the supreme support — unqualified loyalty to the words of gedolei Yisroel, the transmitters of Torah from generation to generation. This was a path that he first and foremost charted for himself and succeeded in conveying to the Z.A.I. movement, whose leader and guide he was.

End of Part I

Reb Moshe's Elul

The following is based on a pamphlet published by the family of R' Moshe Sheinfeld. The second installment includes more material from this pamphlet, which covers his davening on Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kipper.

Reb Moshe was known for his pen but his depth and strength of feeling found additional channels of expression. As soon as Rosh Chodesh Elul arrived it seemed as though invisible hands had transplanted his house to a different place, with a different sky arched above it. Reb Moshe's expression changed subtly. To be sure, the friendly demeanor and the calm with which he received every one of the many visitors to his home remained the same.

Some came in search of spiritual salve and answers to the doubts that assailed them. Others came to discuss current issues and problems, hoping that he would shed some of his brilliant illumination on them, dispelling the darkness and obscurity that beclouded so much of what was happening and what people were feeling. He answered these petitioners apparently normally and the door to his apartment went on opening and closing until late at night, as it usually did.

But though he tried to appear normal and his daily conversation seemed to flow in its normal channels, his family sensed the tension that had arrived. They could feel the walls trembling. They knew that while they rested peacefully at night, their father would have long risen, taken a pre-dawn dip in the mikveh and be deeply immersed in serving his Creator — privately, in solitude, in the nighttime silence.

The bag in which he kept his tallis and tefillin bulged during this season, for he stuffed it with works of searing mussar rebuke and refined piety. Each year he took different seforim and rose at an earlier hour. In the last years of his life there were nights when he didn't sleep for more than two hours. His sleep was always deep and quick. Though he'd sink into the sweet slumber of a man who toils hard as soon as his head touched the pillow, he never needed an alarm clock. He always awoke at the time that he'd set for himself. He was never late, even if he'd been missing out on hours of sleep for days and weeks.

During Elul the words of the piyut, "there is no sleep before Him" — which Kotzker chassidim interpreted to mean that someone who feels that he is standing before his Creator is unable to sleep — were certainly applicable to Reb Moshe.

But Elul meant more than just curtailed sleep. An atmosphere of readiness and preparedness filled the house. Even the steps that the members of the family took as they went from room to room were softer, more considerate and gentler, as were their speech and their general behavior. As Rosh Hashonoh drew closer, especially once the days of selichos arrived, the family felt the gathering tension and rising flutter of the eve of a battle.


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