Dei'ah veDibur - Information &

A Window into the Chareidi World

14 Adar 5775 - March 5, 2015 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by











Sparks of Greatness
HaRav Moshe of Iviye zt"l — A Close Talmid of the Vilna Gaon

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 26th Teves 5531/1771

A melamed of small children. This was the avodas hakodesh that the tzaddik nistar Rabbi Moshe chose to camouflage his true greatness, until the Gra instructed him to reveal his holy ways.

So we are told by the elders of Vashilshok, Lithuania. The story behind this introduction follows:

The Gra was once traveling on a Friday along a lonely road between two far-flung towns, and stopped at an inn to spend the Shabbos.

Speaking to the Jewish owner of the place, he asked him if he had a private melamed to teach his children Torah, living as they were in such isolation, completely separated from any Jewish community.

His host immediately showed the Vilna Gaon into a room where his hired melamed was sitting alone.

Upon seeing Reb Moshe, the Gra entered the room and closed the door behind him. He spent several hours alone with Rabbi Moshe getting to know the `simple' melamed.

When the Gra emerged, it was time to go to the mikveh in preparation for Shabbos. Turning to the innkeeper, he asked if he would spare the melamed for a few minutes so that he could show him the whereabouts of the mikveh.

"Rabbeinu Hagodol," replied the magnanimous host, "I would not send a simple melamed to show Rabbeinu the way. Rather such a deed I will carry out personally. After all it's not often that I have the zchus to serve you. Should I then give this over to a poshuter melamed?"

At this, the Gra retorted angrily, "I'll have you know that this simple melamed of yours surpasses both you and myself in nigleh and in nistar!"

Then to the melamed he said, "The time has come for you to be revealed and to start pouring your fountains of Torah and yirah over the face of the earth."


Rabbi Moshe continued to live from his work to provide for his family. He would leave home for six months at a time, serving as a private melamed in some far-flung Jewish home, and then living frugally off of his earnings for the second half of the year.


On one occasion when he came to the Gra to spend several days in his presence, the Gaon entered his beis midrash where his talmidim were learning and instructed them to "go and learn from Rabbi Moshe hilchos middos tovos."

When the time came for Rabbi Moshe to return home, the talmidim clustered around him to accompany him out and to take their leave of him. Just as he was going, Rabbi Moshe turned back to the talmidim and threw them a startling question.

"What do you all think of my trait of humility?" and with that he was gone, leaving the surprised talmidim to grasp the intent behind his words.

Is this the man from whom we were to learn middos tovos? Is this the humble Moshe? His only thought when taking leave of us is our opinion as to his humility? Surely this is not humility, but misplaced pride.

Their rebbe, the Vilna Gaon heard their question and smiled. "Here lies the greatness of my talmid," he exclaimed. "He was afraid that once he leaves, you would all start to praise his wonderful middos, so he asked you this question to throw you off track and cause you to think he has the terrible middoh of gaavoh lurking beneath his pious exterior. See how he succeeded in fooling you."


We are told in the sefer Dvar Eliyahu in the name of Reb Chaim Brisker zt"l, that the Gra once asked Rabbi Moshe, "How were you zoche to that great merit of yours?"

"To which merit is Rabbeinu referring?" Asked a confused Reb Moshe.

Explained the Gra, "You were zoche to hide your ways from the world while I did not have this privilege."

The Grach would add here that it is evident from his statement that the Gra considered Reb Moshe an equal, except for this detail in which they differed.


In answer to someone's query as to why he traveled to the Gra if his own yedi'as haTorah was so great, Rabbi Moshe answered. "I consider myself one who knows Torah, until I reach Vilna and the entrance to the room of the Gaon. There I see the true meaning of yedi'as haTorah".


Even after his greatness had been revealed, Rabbi Moshe continued to daven by the humble Western side of the shul. The Roshei Hakohol tried in vain to persuade him to sit on the respected Eastern side claiming it was an affront to kovod haTorah. In his self-deprecating fashion Rabbi Moshe said, "Don't you see that it is davka the Kosel Hama'arovi, the Western wall of the Beis Hamikdosh that was not destroyed. The presence of the Shechinah will never leave it, for that is where the multitudes of ordinary, poor and lowly Yidden stood and prayed, making it an important place."


In answer to the question as to why he did not fulfill the dictum of Chazal who tell us that a talmid chochom should have a shminis min hashminis, meaning an eighth of gaavoh, and Rabbi Moshe had no gaavoh at all, he said:

"I'll tell you the pshat of the gemora. A talmid chochom must remember the eighth posuk of the eighth parsha in the Torah. The eighth posuk in Vayishlach begins with, `Kotonti mikol hachassodim,' indicating that a person should always consider himself small and lowly."


The Yesod Veshoresh Hoavodoh mentions that when Rabbi Moshe would hear that a baby boy had been born to Yidden, he would joyfully exclaim, "Our hearts rejoice, for yet another servant has been born to serve Hashem Yisborach throughout his life in this world."


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.