Rabbi Alexander Moshe Lapidot

We may say without exaggeration that among the thousands of Bnei Torah living in the world today, there are perhaps only a few hundred who are aware of the fact that a Rav by the name of Rabbi Alexander Moshe lived in Lithuania more than a century ago – a Gaon in a generation of Gaonim and Tzaddikim. Living in the same era as Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan and Rabbi Israel of Salant, Rabbi Alexander Lapidot was considered a Torah genius and was completely refined in heart and mind. He was also a very eloquent orator and a prolific writer.

Rabbi Alexander Moshe was born to Rabbi Tzvi Lapidot on Adar 2, 5579 (1819). From his early youth he was known for his exceptional intelligence and great diligence. At a very young age he went to study Torah in Salant, where he pursued courses given by the great Gaon of his generation, Rabbi Tzvi Broida. There he encountered Rabbi Israel, the founder of the Mussar movement, and bonded with him in a friendship that would last their entire lives. He recounted that during his studies in Salant, when Rabbi Israel was the Rosh Yeshiva there, he studied tractate Nezikin with his students. When Rabbi Israel finished the tractate, Rabbi Tzvi sent his student Alexander Moshe to listen to Rabbi Israel’s final course on the subject, and he then asked him to repeat everything that he had heard.

A prominent individual from the city of Yanova (near Kovno) heard people speaking highly of Rabbi Alexander Moshe, and so he took as his son-in-law.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, the Rav of Jerusalem, recounts that when he met Rabbi Alexander Moshe (who was the Rav of Rassein at the time), Rav Alexander was speaking with his fiancée. He told her, “You should realize that what people say about me – that I know how to study – is an exaggeration. I know far less than what people think. And what they say about my fear of Heaven – that too is a great exaggeration. As for those who say I’m modest, they have absolutely no idea how filled I am with arrogance.” She listened to these remarks and said, “But it’s not possible that you have no virtues whatsoever. Tell me which.” Rabbi Alexander Moshe replied, “Yes, I do have one virtue: I am a man of truth. This is why you should realize that everything I’ve said up to now is absolutely true.”

After his marriage, Rabbi Alexander Moshe went to live with his father-in-law, who provided for his needs (which was the norm for Torah scholars at that time). There he studied Talmud and the Poskim with great diligence.

He was first appointed as the Rav and Av Beit Din of Yanova, then after a few years he went to live in a suburb on the other side of the river, in the city of Grodno. From there he went to Rassein, where he remained as Rav and Av Beit Din until his last days some 40 years later.

With Rabbi Alexander Moshe’s arrival in Rassein, a new era began in his life. His fame spread to the far reaches of the land, and letters from numerous countries were addressed to him, ones that were filled with various questions and which he answered by the power of his Torah. He assisted Rabbi Israel of Salant in setting up kollels in Kovno and the surrounding areas, and he participated with him in various conferences whose goal was the establishment of kollels as well as other community activities. When Rabbi Tzvi Broida published his book Etz Pri to draw support for kollels, he included articles by Rabbi Israel and Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan, as well as an introduction and large article written by Rabbi Alexander Moshe.

In his article, Rabbi Alexander Moshe expressed the idea that one must find the happy medium, be it in the fear of Heaven or in character traits, according to what the Rambam recommends in Shemonah Perakim, and contrary to the opinion of non-Jewish thinkers. He warned against putting too much emphasis on any given point, “for just as the wicked risks by nature to infringe upon the prohibition against taking away from mitzvot, there are some people who risk transgressing the prohibition of adding to mitzvot, and to destroy the world by this exaggerated virtue.” This is why, Rabbi Alexander Moshe explained, character traits are called midot (literally “measures”), for they must be measured (medudot), weighed, and calculated.

In his city of Rassein there was also a branch of kollels under his direction, and there he gave courses in Mussar according to the style of his Rav and friend, Rabbi Israel of Salant. The following account is given by Rabbi Gedalia Silverstone, the Rav of Washington, in his book Lev Avot: “I heard the Gaon Rabbi Alexander Moshe Lapidot explain the words of the Sages in tractate Berachot (‘A man must always “annoy” his good inclination over his evil inclination’) as follows: What does the word ‘annoy’ mean? If the evil inclination comes to incite you to commit a sin, do not plead with him to mercifully leave you in peace, for in that case you will certainly fall into his hands, since he knows no pity. On the contrary, you should exhibit great anger and say to him: ‘Get away from me, you rasha, for you are trying to take my soul and destroy me for eternity!’ This is the sense of the word ‘irritate’ – with anger.”

Rabbi Alexander Moshe educated many great students, among them being the Gaon Rav Chanoch Henich of Vilna and the Rav of Chaslovich, the Gaon Rabbi Meir Stalivitz (who near the end of his life became the Rav of the Zichron Moshe district of Jerusalem). Rabbi Alexander Moshe was also known as a “lover of Zion,” and he wrote articles in which he shared his views on settling in Eretz Israel and the goal of the “Lovers of Zion” movement. Among other things, he wrote: “All that we want is solely to create a group of farmers who will work the earth, firmly settled in Eretz Israel, to which we are connected by thousands of years of history and which was destined to us by G-d through the intermediary of the holy prophets. It is a very great mitzvah to settle there.”

Rabbi Alexander Moshe helped Rabbi Nathan Tzvi Finkel (the Alter of Slabodka) establish the Knesset Israel yeshiva there, and in a certain way it was he who “discovered” the Alter of Slabodka. At the beginning of his career, Rabbi Nathan Tzvi went from time to time into the surrounding cities to speak to the public, once coming back to his hometown of Rassein and speaking there. The Rav of the city (Rabbi Alexander Moshe) came to listen to his lecture, and he found this young man filled with wisdom and knowledge. He immediately sent a letter to Rabbi Simcha Zissel, a Mussar great, to ask him to take care of the young man and steer him on the right course. Later on, this young man – the Alter of Slabodka, as he would later be known – became one of the greatest teachers of Mussar.

In 5657 (1897), Rabbi Alexander Moshe published a book on research and faith entitled Avnei Zikaron. In addition, we have many manuscripts containing his responsa on Halachah and Aggadah. Rabbi Alexander Moshe lived to the age of 87. He passed away on Adar 10, 5666 (1906).




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