Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

During the Fast of Esther, the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was called back by his Creator at the age of 91. His funeral took place during Shushan Purim in Jerusalem on Wednesday, the 15th of Adar II, 5746 (1986), his casket having been flown there from the United States. In the Etz Chaim yeshiva, where his coffin was placed, shomrim were present during the entire night to study Torah and recite Psalms.

Some 200,000 people escorted his coffin along its final journey, the largest funeral that had ever taken place in Israel. Tens of thousands of people came from all around the world to honor the man who had devoted his entire life to the people of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the land of Israel.

Great Roshei Yeshiva and famous rabbis gave eulogies, testifying to the fact that he was the greatest Posek of the generation and a beacon of Torah; that he was a Torah prince and a Gaon in Halachah, a pillar of kindness, and one of the Tzaddikim on whom the world is founded. In the eulogy delivered by the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh, the Gaon Rav Shach said in a voice choked with tears, “Torah, Torah, gird yourself in sackcloth! Prepare yourself to mourn for your only, unique son…Reb Moshe was the Gadol Hador, without embellishment, without exaggeration…Who is a Talmid Chacham? One who gives answers to questions in all areas. Such was Reb Moshe. There was no question, however complicated, that he did not answer.”

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was born on Adar 7 (the day of our teacher Moses’ birth and passing), 5655 (1895). From his youth he demonstrated exceptional diligence and intelligence, drawing his inspiration from his father, the Gaon Rabbi David Feinstein, the Rav of the small town of Uzda in White Russia. The young Moshe absorbed a love of Torah from his father, and all his friends spoke of his great diligence in Torah study, a diligence that knew no bounds. He himself related that already by the age of 11, he was fully versed in Orders Nashim, Nezikin, and Moed.

The speed of his comprehension was astounding. All it took was a quick glance or a brief listen-to, and he immediately grasped something from every angle. His brother-in-law, Reuven Leivovits, said that one day he was downtown with Rabbi Moshe, surrounded by skyscrapers. “I was stunned,” he said, “when Rabbi Moshe glanced up at one of them and accurately gauged how many floors it had. When I asked him how he did it, he said very simply, ‘I count by the dozens.’ ”

Still young, he became the Rav and Av Beit Din of Luban, in the Minsk region of White Russia. There he remained as Rav during the first years of the Communist Revolution. Despite the government’s persecution of rabbis, he continued his Torah study with great diligence. Although his entire family lived in a small room adjoining the only remaining synagogue in Luban, he managed to sit down in a corner to study, oblivious to all else.

In 5696 (1936), he succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union with his family and moved to the United States, where he settled in New York. He became the Rosh Yeshiva of Tiferet Jerusalem, remaining as such for the rest of his life.

He retained his great diligence in Torah study for his entire life. He studied with every spare minute he had, and needless to say he immersed himself in study during the night. After a few years in the “New World,” he also became known as one the finest rabbis, great in Torah and filled with virtues and good deeds. Even though Rabbi Moshe was still young (in his forties), and there were still Torah greats and spiritual giants in America during that time, he was still known as a Gaon who was perfectly versed with all areas of Torah. From that time on, many rabbis began to address Torah questions to him. If a serious question presented itself to rabbis and they could not reach a decision, they addressed themselves to Rabbi Moshe, who decided the matter.

Why did so many people address themselves to him? It was because they saw in Rabbi Moshe a Gaon and Posek of generations past. Despite his greatness in Torah, he was very humble. All who came to ask him a question in Halachah did not feel in any way uncomfortable, for Rabbi Moshe spoke to them as equals. He treated everyone who met him with great respect, and his heart was always open to anyone afflicted by troubles, hastening to help them. This was how he became precious in the eyes of all who came into contact with him. In a short time, he became recognized as the Posek of the generation and the spiritual leader of the Jewish people.

During the day, rabbis and Rebbes came to him with questions of Halachah. He received everyone warmly, even regular people, whom he rose to greet. He was always the first to say hello, and on Shabbat he was particularly careful to say Gut Shabbos to every Jew he met. Not only was Rabbi Moshe a tremendous Gaon in Torah, he was also a Gaon in humility. He had a heart of gold and loved all men, for they are created in the image of G-d.

He would normally open up a folding bed at two o’clock in the afternoon, on which he would lay down for about 45 minutes. It once happened that a man saw him studying at that time rather than lying down as usual. He approached Rabbi Moshe and asked him why he had differed from his normal behavior, and he simply responded, “Your young son [3 years old at the time] came to me and said that he wanted to lie down on the bed, so I got up and let him sleep. Your son made me study additional Torah!” He then added, a smile coming to his lips, “He should be thanked for it!” The man then approached the bed and saw his son sleeping soundly.

It was also during that summer that someone saw Rabbi Moshe dealing with questions at length without consulting a book. One day, he allowed someone to look at a responsum that he had written on 17 large sheets of paper. What he noticed was that Rabbi Moshe had written it all down without looking at a single book!

For Tisha B’Av, he carefully respected all the customs mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch. One particular Tisha B’Av, after praying and reciting lamentations (which were said almost until midnight), he asked that the book of Lamentations be read. He was told, however, that there was nobody present who knew how to read it. Upon hearing this, he immediately sat down on the ground and read the entire book to everyone there. Afterwards he wanted to go to the cemetery, but fearing for his health, those present told him that the cemetery was too far away and that it was very hot outside. However he insisted, for he absolutely wanted to fulfill this custom. Needless to say, his wishes were respected.

One night after the evening prayer, he and others were sitting down under a tree to discuss the news of the day. It was clear that he wanted to rest a little after a long day of writing, for it was during that summer that he was preparing his lectures for printing. He said, “I’ve written commentaries on the entire Talmud and Order Zeraim of the Yerushalmi.”

Even though he devoted his days and nights to Torah study and writing his books Igrot Moshe and Dibrot Moshe, he was always ready to help others. He had the habit of visiting Jewish homes during days of joy as well as days of mourning. Even when he was very ill, his home was open to visitors. During the last days of his life, he said to his family, “I no longer have any strength. I can no longer render Halachic decisions.” It was as if he had said, “My role in life has ended.”

Eight years before his passing, his doctors wanted to implant a pacemaker in him. He asked for some time to consider the idea. He reasoned that Mashiach would soon arrive and that the Sanhedrin would return to its place in the Lishkat HaGazit (Chamber of Hewn Stone). He was unsure if he could sit in the Sanhedrin, for Halachah does not allow an infirm man to sit there, and he wondered if a man implanted with a pacemaker is considered as being infirm or not.

He pondered the question and decided that it was possible. Yet because of our many sins, he was taken away before the arrival of Mashiach.

Rabbi Moshe was buried in the Har HaMenuhot cemetery in Jerusalem, next to the graves of the Belzer Rebbe and the Gaon of Tchibin.




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