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Friday, July 08, 2011

A Story about Reb Moshe

I was in Staten Island this week, and heard the following story from Rabbi Yosef Asher Weiss, Reb Reuven Feinstein's son in law.

Rabbi Weiss's brother, Rabbi Moshe Meir, was always close to Reb Moshe as a bachur in Staten Island.  When he was seventeen, he was in the Rosh Yeshiva's office when a package from Russia arrived.  The package was festooned with postage stamps and stickers and customs marks.  It contained the pirush on Yerushalmi Dmai that Reb Moshe had written.   Reb Moshe had written pirushim on much of the Yerushalmi, and all his writings were lost in Russia.  Miraculously, someone found his pirush on Maseches Dmai, and traced its author, and had sent it to Reb Moshe.  Reb Moshe opened the package and lovingly opened his notebook, reading what he had written with great joy.

Moshe Meir was thinking about what it means to write on the Yerushalmi, and he asked, "Did the Rosh Yeshiva write only on the Masechtos that don't exist in Bavli?  Reb Moshe smiled and said, "You are seventeen.  When I was your age, I had already finished my pirush on Yerushalmi Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, and Bava Basra."

When Yosef Asher told me this story, it reminded me of a similar incident I experienced.  In the summers, I used to spend some time with Reb Moshe.  I remember discussing with him several teshuvos he was in middle of writing, particularly one on כל דפריש בדבר שיש לו מתירים.  In any case, I had learned Yevamos that year, and I had a problem with one of the pirushim on the Yerushalmi about the status of a Yevama after the consummation of Yibum.  I told it to Reb Moshe, and he agreed that the pirush cannot be correct.  I mentioned that the Noda BeYehuda, in a Teshuva, expressed strong words against someone who questioned a ruling in a previous teshuva on the basis of something one of the pirushim on the Yerushalmi says.  I don't remember the Noda Be'Yehuida's words now, but they were something along the lines of "What kind of chutzpah do you have to waste my time with a kashe based on some nonsense that person said?"  Reb Moshe said that although he agrees that the pirush cannot be right, we cannot dismiss the mefareish with words as strong as the Noda BeYehuda, because "before you begin writing a pirush on Yerushalmi, you have to know all of the Bavli clearly."  In the original, איידער מען פאנגט אן שרייבען א פירוש אף ירושלמי מוז מען קענען גאנץ בבלי קלאר.

We continued talking for a few minutes, and he told me about the pirush he wrote on the Yerushalmi, and he mentioned that he began writing his pirush when he was   thirteen   years   old.

There is a plague of audacity in the world, which has led to the infamous justification for disputing the great poskim, namely, "He's a Rabbi, and I'm a Rabbi."  If you don't understand the nuances of psak and lomdus, it is easy to be misled into thinking this attitude has some legitimacy.  It does not.  The examples that come to mind are Mozart and Louisa May Alcott.  Their gifts were not talents that were quantitatively greater than those of their peers.  These were categorically distinct talents.  Imagine, then, one who has been blessed with a full measure of the particular and sublime talent of the Jewish people- a natural skill and affinity for profoundly interpreting and understanding Retzon Hashem, Hashems' will- who then, preceded by innumerable generations of and surrounded by gedolim, indefatigably and humbly works to develop that skill to it's greatest potential.  He's a Rabbi I'm a Rabbi indeed.

~

1 comment:

Daniel said...

I don't mean to detract from the respect and awe you've rightly given here to the gedolim but I do want to qualify a point that all too often is overlooked and leads to many terrible effects. While it's true that your average smart guy of today's generation can never stand up to gedolim like R' Moshe in terms of all the aspects you've mentioned, there is one superiority that דורות אחרונים will have over דורות ראשונים and that is in their understanding of the world at it's more evolved stage, that being the cumulation of all the great men and women that preceded them (Isaac Newton's standing on shoulders of giants).

I'm not very knowledgable in physics but I know that Einstein created some fudged constants in his equations for relativity because he firmly believed "God does not play dice with the universe". Well we now know from further study that Chaos is in fact part and parcel of reality and that God DOES play dice with the universe. THAT knowledge, that I, dumb me, have now and how it affects my perception of reality is in fact something that gives me an "advantage" over einstein, as crazy as that may sound.

My point you ask? my point is that there are some things that great gedolim of generations past couldn't judge as well as someone of my generation. Not because we're anywhere close in knowledge but because we're closer in understanding the reality which is before us. I don't want to overwrite any more than I already have but I feel very strongly about making this point because many good, earnest yeshiva bachurim of MY generation followed blindly the ideal "daas torah/ daas gedolim knows best" and have suffered as a result. Not all, but some. bivracha, Daniel