Rabbi Moshe Schick • “The Maharam Schick”

Rabbi Moshe Schick, the Rav of Khust, was unique in his generation. All the great qualities that the Sages saw in the great men of Israel were found in him. He was steeped in Torah and wise in the ways of this world. He spoke the truth and judged fairly. He was pious and humble, fearing no man. He was constantly seated in the tent of Torah study and quickly wrote his responsum; he was scholarly and possessed a lively mind, and he was loved and respected. He was truly a prince of Torah in his generation, and a magnet for all those who questioned him in Halachah and sought his advice to their problems.

Rabbi Moshe was born on Adar 21, 5567 (1807) in the tiny city of Rezawa, Hungary. His father Rabbi Yossef, who lived honestly and uprightly, died when he was only six years old. The lively intelligence of Moshe made itself known from his childhood. He was extremely diligent and always revised what he studied in school. By the age of 10, he knew all of Tanach and the six orders of the Mishnah by heart, and at a very young age he had a reputation as being a genius of extraordinary proportions.

At the age of 11, he left his mother to go study Torah at the yeshiva of his uncle Rabbi Yitzchak Frenkel, the Rav of Freuen Kirchen. He stayed there for three years, returning to his mother knowing several tractates and numerous Talmudic subjects by heart. He then decided to travel to the city of Pressburg and learn Torah with the Gaon Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the author of Chatam Sofer. Not having the means to rent a carriage to travel there, however, he went by foot, passing from town to town and from village to village until reaching Pressburg. He arrived two days before Yom Kippur, having only four cents in hand.

After the Musaf prayer of Yom Kippur, the Chatam Sofer usually spoke some words of Torah to his students. A young adolescent, small of size, listened attentively to the words of the Rav. He then suddenly expressed his opinion on a matter, even bringing a proof that was completely relevant to the Rav’s subject. The Chatam Sofer’s attention was drawn to what he said, and he asked the boy what his name was. He replied, “My name is Moshe of Rezawa.” The Chatam Sofer said to him, “Moshe, you will eat at my home after the fast.” From that moment on, the boy attached himself to his Rav for the rest of his life.

He remained in the Pressburg yeshiva for six years, during which time he absorbed the entire Torah of his teacher the Chatam Sofer. The latter, who said that the boy was blessed and destined for greatness, treated him with great affection and rejoiced in his words of Torah. Before long, he became familiar with all fields of Torah. He was greatly loved by the students of the yeshiva, for besides his greatness in Torah, fear of G-d, and fine character traits, he was humble and self-effacing. He had a gentle nature and a pleasing disposition, and he was cherished by all. He also spoke calmly and loved every Jew.

At the age of 20, he married the daughter of a very wealthy man, Rabbi Peretz Frenkel of the city of Halitosch. He stayed with his father-in-law for ten years, studying Torah day and night. At that time the community of Yerguin was looking for a great Rav, and they asked the Chatam Sofer for his advice. He replied, “If you are looking for a Gaon and a Tzaddik as a Rav, take Rabbi Moshe Schick.”

Rabbi Moshe remained in the tiny city of Yerguin for 25 years, caring for the community like a merciful father. His genius was not only intellectual, it was also a genius of the heart. He loved doing good, and he was overjoyed when successful in helping someone with a problem. Once a peasant came to see him on the very same day that he received his salary for the previous three months. Now this man cried to him that his life was in great danger, for he owed a government minister 100 gold coins (an enormous sum at the time) for some alcohol that he had purchased from him. The minister had threatened to kill him if he did not pay his debt. The Rav ordered the Jew to give the minister a letter from him, but he replied, “I’m afraid that he’ll kill me before reading it!” The Rav responded, “In that case, send the letter by a messenger.” The Jew did so, and later when he heard a knock at the door of his home, he opened it to find the minister laughing: “Apparently your Rabbi is very rich,” he said. As you would expect, the letter that the Jew had given to the minister from the Rav contained the money that he owed him.

Rabbi Moshe was content with little. He hated corruption and avoided receiving gifts. One day he sensed that the Shamash, who would normally bring him his salary, had brought more than expected. He immediately sent for him and said, “You must be mistaken this time with my salary.” The Shamash replied, “I haven’t made a mistake. The leaders of the community decided to give you a raise.” The Rav refused to take this increase in salary, saying: “The teachers asked for a raise a few months ago, but the leaders of the community refused to give them one, with the excuse that they didn’t have the money for it. They also didn’t increase the salary of the Dayan or the Shochatim.” When the Shamash related the words of the Rav to the leaders, they held a meeting and decided to increase the salaries of the Dayan, Shochatim, teachers, and the Shamash. Only then did the Rav accept a raise.

In 5621 (1861), Rabbi Moshe was appointed as the Rav of the large city of Khurt in Hungary. New horizons opened for him in this burgeoning community. He opened a large yeshiva from which leaders of the Jewish people immerged. He also watched over the “Talmud Torah” of the city, and every week he tested the school children there. During his time the Reform movement began in Germany, a movement that aimed at allowing things that our fathers and forefathers had prohibited. Rabbi Moshe Schick wrote many responsum in which he revealed the evil intentions of the Reformists. All Jewish practices were holy in his eyes, and he defended tradition with all his might. When some people wanted to abolish the practice of the bridegroom enveloping the bride with his burial garment (his Tallit) under the chuppah, the Rav explained its beauty: “This garment is the sign of the couple’s covenant of love unto death, for only death can separate them.” He also fought against those who changed their names by adopting new ones that were common to their country, for he saw a danger to the existence of the Jewish people in this practice. He would often say, “When a royal decree was issued stating that all Jews must acquire a family name, in addition to their holy name, the first in our family to do so did not wish to yield at first, since for him this was a serious matter. When he was forced to take on an additional name, he said: ‘I will call myself Schick, a name formed by the initials of Shem Israel Kadosh [the name of Israel is holy].’ ”

On Shabbat, the 1st of Shevat 5639 (1879), the soul of Rabbi Moshe Schick left his world in holiness and purity. The greatest men of his generation gave eulogies for him, saying: “From Moshe – Rabbi Moshe the Chatam Sofer – to Moshe, no one has arisen like Moshe.”




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