Monday, July 6, 2009

Reb Moshe; A Story About Gadlus

Every once in a while, the street gets aroused about some psak of Reb Moshe's, and I think it's worth recalling just what he was. Im rishonim ke'malachim, anu ki'bnei adam. Im rishonim ki'bnei adam,'stam chamorim. (Shabbos 112b)

If one has never studied the Chazon Ish, it is difficult to comprehend the depth of his encyclopedic knowledge. He writes on every Torah topic, from Netillas Yadayim to Choshen Mishpat to Taharos. His diagrams for hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh and Mezuza and Eiruvin are famously daunting. Often, when you read his words, you realize that the gemara can be understood on an level entirely different than you had apprehended, evidence that great height and great depth and great breadth can co-exist. His creative and insightful integration of the entire Shas and commentaries are like a shower of cold water on a hot day. As the Netziv said about learning Reb Akiva Eiger, you feel you should be standing up when you learn from his sefarim.

Reb Moshe was in Eretz Yisrael once, and Reb Beinish Finkel, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir, visited him. My mechutan is a cousin of Reb Beinish's, and he talked to Reb Beinish soon afterwards. First, let me point out that Reb Beinish, besides being very close with all the Gedolei Eretz Yisrael, was the nephew of the Chazon Ish, having married the daughter of Reb Shmuel Greineman, the Chazon Ish's brother-in-law (Rebbitzen Greineman was the Chazon Ish's sister,) and he learned with him for seven years before he became Rosh Yeshiva. (At that time, he was a guard at an ice factory in Bnei Brak, and he stayed in the factory all night, and he would spend the entire day with the Chazon Ish.)

Reb Beinish said that in the time he was sitting with Reb Moshe, ten she'eilos came in, from all the Miktzo'os hatorah, involving the most disparate topics. He said that Reb Moshe answered every question immediately and thoroughly, as if he had just that moment finished learning the relevant subject. Reb Beinish's words were "Dos hob ich kein mohl nisht ge'zehn." Someone asked him, "Afilu bah der Fetter????" He answered "Afilu bah der Fetter." This I have never seen, even by Uncle.

And a similar story:
Reb Tzvi Hirsch Meisels, the Veitzener Rav, lived in Chicago when I was a child. He was once at my parents' house for a parlor meeting on behalf of, I think, Chinuch Atzmai. As he sat at the table, there was talking among the honored guests, and Rabbi Meisels mentioned that he had just come back from New York, where he sat on a Beis Din with Reb Moshe, adjudicating a question concerning a certain large organization in New York. He said that he spent weeks with Reb Moshe, and he could guarantee that there is not one se'if in the four parts of Shulchan Aruch that Reb Moshe does not have at his fingertips. A young man who was listening interjected, foolishly, "How can that be? (He) heard in the name of the Chazon Ish that in our days, there is nobody that remembers every se'if in Shulchan Aruch!" Rabbi Meisels responded "Nu, there are two possible answers to the kashe. To be mekayeim the words of the Chazon Ish, maybe there is a se'if that Reb Moshe doesn't remember; but when he needs it, he remembers it. Or, the Chazon Ish just didn't know Reb Moshe."

And a story from Reb Moshe's nephew, Reb Michoel Feinstein ztzal of Bnei Brak, who was married to the Brisker Rov's daughter, Rebbitzen Lifsheh.  According to Reb Michoel's son in law, Rav Tzvi Kaplan of Yeshivas Kodshim in Yerushalayim, Reb Michoel said many, many times that "the uncle (RebMoshe)  is greater than the shver (the Brisker Rov)."  One time, Rebbitzen Lifsheh came in and overheard him saying it, and she said, "Greater?  Greater? Maybe maybe in Bekius, but in 'lernen?' Never!"

And the funny thing is, that reading Reb Moshe's teshuvos or dibros, one feels, occasionally, that it is not that extraordinary, that the ideas are not as spectacular as in the more Yeshivishe achronim, that the bekius is not that unusual. I often felt that Reb Moshe's style and content are reminiscent of the Pnei Yehoshua. But we all know of contemporaries who have said that Reb Moshe was a nice Russian Rov, but no more than that. Who am I to say who is right and who is wrong? But, and with all due respect, I wonder, why was I moved write about this topic after hearing Parshas Korach?


  1. Be Kind to Dumb Animals Week is my favorite time of the year.

  2. btw, the yeshivishe raid in Yerushalaim is that the solid trigonometry diagrams in the Chazon Ish for hilchos kiddush hachodesh were drawn, at his request, by Reb Beinish, who was then approximately 18 years old. And if I could have made the previous sentence any longer, I would have.

  3. I've never had a problem with long sentences. I just make judicious use of dashes, colons, and semi-colons. If I were doing this for a wide demographic, I might pay more attention to style, but as it is, most of my readers are just shnorring divrei torah for Sheva Brachos or Bar Mitzvahs. During the three weeks, the readership rate looks like someone took an ax to it. I probably shouldn't say shnorring, it's more like "the secret of success in mathematics", as Tom Lehrer said.

  4. Why don't you write a blog? Or you can contribute to my other website,, which I own but never actually used for anything. I have only one standard: That if Rav Rudderman read the vort, he wouldn't turn away with that famous grimace.