Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik
Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik was born on the second day of Rosh Hashanah in the year 5676 (1915) in the city of Brisk. His father, the Gaon Rabbi Israel Gershon, was the son of the Maran Rabbi Chaim Halevi of Brisk, who was his Sandek. It was within this illustrious family that Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik grew up. From his youth he was known for his exceptional gifts: His perseverance, his diligence, and his fear of Heaven (which had no equal other than his wisdom and lofty virtues).
He studied at the yeshiva of Rabbi Moshe Sokolovsky, the author of Imreh Moshe, and also at the yeshiva of Kamenitz with the Maran Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz.
In 5695 (1935) he fled from Russia with a group of Brisk Talmidim, among whom was Rabbi Aaron Leib Steinman, who would remain one of Rabbi Moshe’s most faithful friends. Rabbi Moshe settled in Switzerland at the Montreux yeshiva. Despite the anguish and distress that he experienced over the fate of his Jewish brothers caught in the tempest of World War II, he devoted his days and nights to the study of Torah and even gave, though he was still very young, shiurim to the bachurim. Rabbi Israel Zimmel Rottestein recounts that one day, a group of Jewish refugees coming from Buchenwald, broken both physically and emotionally, arrived in Switzerland. Rabbi Moshe assembled the entire group, and under the pretext of providing them support and encouragement he gave a Davar Torah. He cited the following Psalm: “A psalm by David, as he fled from Absalom his son” [Psalms 3:1].
He then told them, “The Gemara asks the following question: How are we to understand that David sang while escaping from his son Absalom, who was chasing behind in order to kill him? It would have been more appropriate for David to have moaned and cried. In fact, David sang because when he realized that it was his son Absalom who was personally chasing him (and not simply Absalom’s servants), he foresaw and understood that it could only be the will of G-d behind this event, that this could not possibly be the result of a human response. In the same way,” Rav Moshe told them, “you who have suffered martyrdom in your bodies and souls, this too cannot be conceived as belonging to the realm of man, but emanates from Hashem. Therefore be strong and courageous and follow the way of Hashem.”
All of them felt that this was not a simple person who had spoken to them, but a great man. A few years later, Rav Moshe went up to Eretz Israel and studied at the Lomza Yeshiva in Petah Tikva, out of which emerged Torah giants. During those same years, he had the privilege of being in contact with the Maran Chazon Ish, whom he always called Mori VeRabi.
Rav Moshe returned to Switzerland in 5709 (1948/49), where he married the daughter of Rav Shemuel Zanvil Neuman of Lugano and settled in that city. There he founded a yeshiva and worked to strengthen Swiss Judaism. Several years later he founded a yeshiva in Lucerne.
His only goal was to arouse in his young students the desire to become yeshiva bachurim. All that was required for this to happen was for his students to see him sitting down and studying with his usual enthusiasm, which would inspire a love of Torah in them. In this way, he inculcated in them an attachment to Torah and a fear of Heaven that was never to leave them. His classes focused on giving deep thought to the literal sense of the text, and he always pushed the Talmidim to go deeply into the texts in search of the truth.
He settled next in Zurich, where he lived the rest of his days. Upon his arrival there in 5724 (1963), he revolutionized Swiss Judaism and became a guide for all. Despite his prestige, he remained completely humble, and during his entire life he behaved as an ordinary Jew. He had such great concentration in study that nothing could bother him. Conversely, the complaint of a Jew always found in him an attentive ear. Such is the way of Hashem – to always be attentive to the complaint of a broken heart – and it was this same approach that was found with Rav Moshe. He didn’t hesitate to provide comfort and support for the sick as quickly as possible, even if it was in the middle of the night. Many were his prayers and fasts for the healing of the sick.
Over the course of the years, he acquired a reputation as the leader of European Orthodox Jewry. Thousands of people came to consult with him, and Rav Moshe exercised this role of counselor for the great rabbinic personalities of his era as well. No important Halachic decision was taken without the advice of the Gaon, and his inputs always proved important. Rav Chaim Yaakov Rottenberg once said of him, “There is no other person more clear in his thoughts or sharper in his decisions.”
Day and night, Rav Moshe’s house was a place for answers to questions concerning the affairs of the community. Concerning this subject, the statement that was written concerning Moshe Rabbeinu applies to Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik as well: “And Moshe descended from the mountain to the people” (Exodus 19:14). Rashi explains that Moshe Rabbeinu descended directly from the mountain to the people – he did not attend to his personal affairs first. Similarly, Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik was always concerned with the needs of the community before even his own studies. He was known for his exceptional ability to reach hearts and guide them regardless of their various tendencies. He was appreciated and loved by thousands of Jews around the world because of his extraordinary midot (characteristics) of tzniut (modesty), anavah (humility), metinut (prudence), savlanut (patience), and tolerance.
In Russia, during the time of Communism’s collapse, he was at the head of the spiritual resurgence of Jews who had been disconnected from their origins for two generations. As soon as the first events occurred in the East, he understood that this upheaval was part of the Divine plan to strengthen Torah in that part of the world. He then founded a yeshiva in Moscow that allowed many young Jews to return to Torah, enabling them to become true Ben Torahs, Jews who are at present enrolled in the largest yeshivas in Israel.
Rav Moshe became sick during the last months of his life, and the Torah world mobilized itself in prayer and supplication for his healing. However on Iyar 18, 5755 (May 18, 1995), he rendered his pure soul to his Creator.
The legacy that Rav Moshe left behind is great, and his descendants are known the world over as great Chachamim: Rabbi Israel (Rosh Kollel in Jerusalem), Rabbi Shemuel Chaim; Rabbi Baruch (Rosh Yeshiva in Hebron); Rabbi Avraham Ishaya; his daughter and son-in-law Rabbi Shlomo Zev Karlibach.
With the passing of Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik, Orthodox Judaism lost one of its most beloved spiritual shepherds, great in Torah and the fear of Heaven.