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For the week ending 14 January 2017 / 16 Tevet 5777

HaRav HaGaon HaRav Moshe Shapiro, zatzal

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

A few of my thoughts and memories about an unforgettable Torah giant, from whom I and multitudes at Ohr Somayach and around the world had the great merit of learning Torah over the course of decades…

I like to call myself a talmid of Reb Moshe. I don’t really deserve that appellation, but since I had the great zechut to learn gemara and hashkafa from him I have at least a shadow of a claim to it. In my experience there was no one like Reb Moshe. He was the consummate Gadol B’Torah and Mentsch. Everything he did and said was shaped by the Torah he learned. He not only had Tanach, Shas and Poskim at his fingertips – they coursed through his heart and brain — but he also represented the embodiment of the Torah. His words penetrated into the heart of the listener. Many of his talmidim guided themselves, when he wasn’t available, by seeing his image in front of them and asking, “What would Reb Moshe say about this?”

He was a great intellectual and had an amazing grasp of the modern world, its philosophy, science and music. He was, of course, an original thinker and in certain ways a maverick. Although many people wanted to put him in a box, he wouldn’t let them. The background of the student was almost irrelevant. If the person had a thirst for Torah he saw the person’s great potential and “invested” all of his strength and special ability to transmit the essence of Torah to that person. It didn’t matter if the talmid was someone new to observance and Torah study, or whether the talmid was a Rosh Yeshiva. He wouldn’t back down. He was a loving father to all his talmidim, many of them at Ohr Somayach, where he taught for many years. Each one of us has stories to tell. Here are two. They aren’t about him, but he chose to relate them to us in gemara shiur. They were his aggaditah.

It was during the Gulf War in 1990-1991. Those of us who lived in Israel at that time remember the 39 Scud missiles shot by Saddam Hussein that reached our Homeland. There was one death directly caused by the Scuds. Reb Moshe told us that the man who was killed was a famous anti-religious activist from the Tel Aviv area. Every Friday evening, years before, he and a friend of his would ride their big and noisy motorcycles down the main street of Bnei Braq to protest the closing of the streets there and to disturb the holiness of the Shabbat. One Friday evening the wire stretching across the road slipped off one pole and was hanging quite low. As he roared down Rabbi Akiva Street, his friend was decapitated by the wire. Years later the other Shabbat desecrater, who reveled in violating the 39 avot melacha of Shabbat, died by one of the 39 Scuds.

The other story is about a front-page picture in most of the newspapers in Israel during that war. It was a photograph of a man whose house had been totally destroyed by a Scud, standing in middle of the collapsed building and smiling broadly. Rav Moshe told us that he had been in a cab the day the picture was published, and the cab driver told him about his friend who was pictured. He had been a notable thief for many years, had been to prison and when freed he continued with his life of crime. Somehow, he heard a talk by a rabbi who urged his audience to do teshuvah. The speech was so compelling that the thief decided then and there to give up his life of crime and become religious. Which he did. After years of learning and doing mitzvot, he was troubled by one thing. All his possessions had been acquired through theft. Although he compensated the victims and did many acts of chessed for the community, his possessions were always a reminder of his past sins. When the missile destroyed his house and all his possessions, but miraculously left him unscathed, he was so happy that G-d had finally removed those reminders — and all he could do was smile.

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