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Евреи города>Раввины

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen
5603/1843-5686/1926

Dvinsk - City of Gaonim

Like a woman who has been forced into many unwanted marriages, the city has been known by many names. Yet, no one speaks of Daugavpils today; Dunaburg is mentioned only momentarily when one relates a vort from Reb Reuvele Dinaburger's Rosh LaReuvaini. Even the larger area of Latgale is forgotten, and Latvia herself lies silently anonymous in the belly of the great Russian bear.

But Dvinsk lives on. For as long as Jews study the monumental works of Reb Yoseif Rosen, the Gaon of Rogatchov, and Reb Meir Simcha HaKohen, the name of Dvinsk will be spoken with respect and a touch of awe! Indeed, in the century and a half of the existence of the Jewish community in Dvinsk, two of the Torah giants of all ages flourished there, in the same period: From 1888, when the Rogatchover assumed the position of Rabbi of the Chassidic community of the city, until Reb Meir Simcha's death in 1926, Dvinsk was a dual Torah center for the world.

Despite differences in approach to halachic problems, in personal temperament and in deportment, Reb Meir Simcha's and the Rogatchover's "constituency" was the same: Klal Yisrael. Letters from around the globe poured into Dvinsk seeking Torah guidance. It is no wonder that Reb Meir Dan Plotski, author of the Klei Chemdah, declared with unabashed admiration upon leaving the city: "I am envious of the city of Dvinsk for having merited the presence of two such great gaonim."1

The Two Half-Rabbis

The phenomenon of two rabbis in a Lithuanian city was a common one, for almost every city contained two distinct communities, the Sephardic - here referring to Chassidim - and the Ashkenazic, also known as the Misnagdim. In the case of Dvinsk, the distinction was somewhat blurred because all factions of world Jewry claimed each of the two Torah giants as their own. Reb Meir Simcha had joked good-naturedly about the dichotomy.

Two rabbis who had come to visit Reb Meir Simcha were waiting in his study for him to rise from a nap. The Rebbetzin notified Reb Meir Simcha that two rabbis were waiting for him, but when he glanced through the door and saw who they were, he corrected her, "No, there is only one rabbi. Like me, each of them is only a half a rabbi; thus only one is waiting."2

The two "half-rabbis" of Dvinsk maintained a unique relationship, testing each other upon the most esoteric and abstruse Talmudic questions3 , and each humorously commenting upon the other's Torah knowledge and greatness:

Someone once commented in front of Reb Meir Simcha that the Rogatchover had a phenomenal memory. "Nonsense," replied Reb Meir Simcha, "he hasn't any memory at all. A person with an extraordinary memory is one who many years later remembers something he studied long ago with the same freshness. Reb Yoseif reviews the entire Talmud daily and is always in the midst of every portion of the Gemara. Is this memory?"4

On another occasion, Reb Meir Simcha characterized the Rogatchover's myriad references to any Talmudic question in the following way:

When the Rogatchover cites ten places in the Talmud to elucidate a difficult question, one of them is a perfect reference which exactly fits the question as if the Rashba had been speaking. However, the Rogatchover himself does not know which one.5

The Rogatchover, too, would comment upon Reb Meir Simcha in a similar vein, saying, "Reb Meir Simcha claims that he has no knowledge of achronim (later Torah authorities), but I know for a fact that he is an absolute master of every word in the Shach."6

Of course, the witty exchanges between the two Torah giants were merely reflections of a deep inner mutual respect and affection. The Rogatchover Gaon paid Reb Meir Simcha the ultimate compliment when he sent all those who came to him for a blessing to Reb Meir Simcha. "Go to the Kohen," he used to tell all.7 And Reb Meir Simcha would often refer questions requiring great amounts of research and erudition to the Rogatchover. ''I will have to toil all night over this," he would say, "but step in to the Rogatchover and he will answer you on the spot."8

A Reb Meir Simcha Sampler

Upon even the most preliminary study of the Meshech Chochmah, one's first and continuing impression must be one of wonder at Reb Meir Simcha's absolute mastery of so many disciplines, styles and approaches, each brought into play precisely where it is needed and where it does the most to elucidate that particular passage.

The examples in this sampler were selected in an attempt to convey the incredible eclecticism of the Meshech Chochmah. Within his commentary upon five passages, one may find a halachic interpretation of what seems to be merely a narrative; a deep philosophical essay; a profound discourse traversing all of Jewish history and relating the pasuk to contemporary problems; an eloquent call to morals and ethics worthy of great ba'alei mussar; an excursion into the abstruse world of Kabbalah; a light, almost humorous touch.

For the sake of brevity, we have selected only short commentaries.

Bereishis 12:16 - "And [Abraham] had sheep and oxen and male donkeys, and men-servants and maid-servants and female donkeys and camels." One reason for this detailed list is to note that Abraham never intended to settle permanently in Egypt: he had not purchased horses. The Egyptians did not permit the export of horses (see Ramban on Devarim 18:16) and since Abraham would soon have to sell them, he did not buy any to begin with.

Bereishis 13:4 - "To the place of the altar he had built earlier." The Talmud (Menachos 1Oa) states concerning another matter that whenever the expression "the place of ..." is used, the subject (of ...) is no longer in existence. Here, too, the place where Abraham had built his altar had been made into a center for idol worship. Therefore (Avodah Zara 52b), the altar itself lost all holiness and, indeed, became a forbidden object. However, the ministrations of the idol-worshiper could not defile the place itself (in accordance with Avodah Zara 45a), which retained its holiness.

Tehillim 26:8 - "L-rd, I love the dwelling of Your house and the place of Your Holy Sanctuary." As in the above passage, even in the absence of the Holy Ark and the Sanctuary, the place itself is holy.


The Enlightening "Light"

Today, with the aid of a half century of evaluation, we can easily say that both the Rogatchover's Tzofnas Paane'ach and Reb Meir Simcha's Or Same'ach are true Torah classics. Yet, time has also shown that while the Rogatchover's sefarim remain the domain of a select few who have become accustomed to his terminology based on the Rambam's Moreh and the myriad references to every point, the Or Same'ach is the cherished treasure of many a ben Torah. Terse, to the point, often resplendently brilliant in its original interpretations, the Or Same'ach is a "must" in countless batei midrash.

Torah classics do not achieve their status easily. There is no weekly bestseller list, and no published book review can grant instant status to a new sefer. Perhaps no other type of publication in the world receives as careful scrutiny as volumes of Torah chiddushim. Experts in the field examine every thought and idea again and again, generation after generation. Talmudic discussions are not studied in moments of light reading, but from total immersion in one minute area of thought. Very few have survived such scrutiny and maintained their lofty status.

The names are engraved in our minds and hearts - the K'tzos and Nesivos, Reb Akiva Eiger ... and the Chazon Ish, Chiddushei Reb Chaim, and the Achi Ezer in many communities ... and the Or Same'ach on the Rambam. A talmid chacham main- tains a unique relationship with each of these classics. As he begins a paragraph, there is a picture in his mind's eye of a gadol baTorah, one of the tzaddikim of the generation, a man whose Torah opinions have become integrated into the eternal Torah heritage.

And yet, as one examines a new sevara - a new concept - by one of these gedolim, the relationship is an intellectual one. Nothing is taken for granted, no explanation is accepted because Reb Meir Simcha has written it, or because Reb Chaim has said it must be so. Every word is reevaluated afresh, every concept dissected, every interpretation critically analyzed. It is under these incredibly exacting conditions that the Or Same'ach is today considered an indispensable Torah classic.

A Reb Meir Simcha Sampler

Bereishis 14:23 - "If I have taken from ... a string or shoestrap ..." The Talmud (Chulin 88b) relates that in the merit of this great act of Abraham, the Jews received the mitzvah of tzitzis (strings) and tefillin (straps). It is eminently fitting that during Shacharis, the morning prayer initiated by Abraham, Jews are attired in their tefillin. This, too, is the reason that the tallis gadol is worn at Shacharis.



The Tenth Man

Only once during the period from 1887 to 1926 did Dvinsk have but one rabbi. When World War I broke out, in 1914, the Russian Commander, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevitch (uncle of Czar Nikolai II) ordered the expulsion of the Jews from along the Russo-German Front. Dvinsk became dangerous for Jews, with famine and disease wreaking havoc. All who could fled the city. Even the Rogatchover was prevailed upon by his followers to escape.

But Reb Meir Simcha would not go. Neither the entreaties of his friends and students nor letters from gedolim around the world could persuade him to abandon his post. "As long as there are nine other Jews in that city, I will be the tenth for a minyan," he declared, and so infused hope and courage into his brethren. When he was reminded of the constant danger, Reb Meir Simcha declared, "Every bullet has a designated address and none will reach where there has been no Heavenly decree that it do so."9

o One stormy October during this difficult period, terrifying news quickly spread through Dvinsk: "They're taking the Rav!" Everyone ran into the street and beheld the shattering sight of Reb Meir Simcha surrounded by burly Cossacks carrying drawn revolvers. Only the serene visage and calm demeanor of Reb Meir Simcha saved the horrified crowd from hysteria.

Despite the obvious dangers of doing so, thousands of Jews and Gentiles signed petitions attesting to the nobility of the Rav's character and his vital importance to the wellbeing of all members of that city. That very day, Reb Meir Simcha was freed and was never molested again.10

The Respect of the Gentiles

The above incident illustrates one of Reb Meir Simcha's more unique qualities: his relationship with the non-Jews of Dvinsk. A Gaon following the most ancient of traditions - spending virtually all of his time studying and teaching Torah - Reb Meir Simcha developed a reputation as a Holy Man among the Gentiles of the city. Indeed it is said that when Reb Meir Simcha was incarcerated by the authorities, a certain Christian tanner presented himself in the Rav's place, imploring, "Please do not harass this holy man. For the good of the city, let him go."11 Reb Meir Simcha's reputation was so widespread that even non-Jews sought him to settle their quarrels. Some say his acceptability began with the case of the Jew and the gypsy.

A Jew and a gypsy had been business partners when a major conflict of interests developed between them. Not being able to come to an agreement themselves, the gypsy suggested they go to Reb Meir Simcha for a decision. The Jewish man agreed and they presented their case to the Rav. Reb Meir Simcha listened with particularly careful attention and proceeded with his own independent investigation. After satisfying himself about the facts, Reb Meir Simcha decided in favor of the gypsy. From that day forward, the word of Reb Meir Simcha's justice and objectivity spread throughout all of Dvinsk and indeed Latvia.12

Reb Meir Simcha was known to joke about this phenomenon and with a smile would say, "A Chassidic Rebbe often has many types of Chassidim, but I draw all types of followers."13 Another aspect of the singular esteem in which Reb Meir Simcha was held was the widespread belief in his ability to literally bring about miracles. A resident of Dvinsk relates the following:

I remember when the Dvina overflowed its banks and threatened to flood the city. Gentiles and Jews alike swore by all that was holy to them that they saw Reb Meir Simcha mount the embankment, gaze at the swirling waters for a moment, murmur something very quietly and - the waters withdrew and the danger passed.14

Another such story was often related by an important member of the Dvinsk Koholisher Shul, where Reb Meir Simcha prayed.

Once, on my way to catch a train which was scheduled to leave shortly, I stopped in to say goodbye to the Rav and to notify him of my trip. Departing from character, the Rav began to ask me questions about this and that, seemingly unaware of my great rush. Every time I protested that I would miss my train, the Rav brushed aside my complaints and brought up another subject. Out of respect for the Rav, I could not simply leave, and I missed the train. Later, I found out that the train had derailed causing many deaths and casualties. 15

A Reb Meir Simcha Sampler

Bereishis 15:8 - "How shall I know that I will truly inherit the land?" The understanding of Abraham's question lies in the knowledge that only a promise made by G-d through a prophet cannot be revoked (see Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 10:4 and lntroduction to Mishna); a promise made to an individual can be rescinded due to that person's sins. Therefore, although Abraham knew that his children were secure because they would hear G-d's promise through Abraham the prophet, he was worried that his own sins could exclude him from participation in the promise.



The Wise Judge

Despite his reputation for powers bordering on the miraculous, Reb Meir Simcha's primary traits were his incredible wisdom, his genuine concern for people, and the eloquence and beauty of every phrase.

In a din Torah brought before Reb Meir Simcha, both litigants claimed a piece of land. The Rav attempted to bring the two men to an acceptable compromise, but both stood their ground stubbornly. Suddenly the Rabbi announced that he wished to see the plot of land under dispute. When they were all standing on the contested ground, Reb Meir Simcha planted his walking stick into the ground and announced: "Here are two people, each has a valid claim and each declares, 'This ground is mine.' And here is the ground which declares, 'you are both mine.' "

The words made a deep impression on both men and eventually they were able to compromise.16

In addition to his mastery of the technical details of halachah, Reb Meir Simcha had an amazingly accurate ear for discerning truth and falsity. This trait stood him in good stead during the Russian occupation of Dvinsk in 1919, when the Bolsheviks prohibited rabbis from adjudicating disputes according to the laws of the Torah. They were only allowed to act as arbitrators following secular guidelines.

Two butchers had submitted a dispute to Reb Meir Simcha for binding arbitration. During their presentations, Reb Meir Simcha discerned that one of them was presenting false evidence. Immediately, the Rabbi stood up and declared to the man in awesome and measured tones: "No doubt you are brazen enough to present your false claims because you know that my capacity here is merely that of arbitrator. But I am sure, that were I to tell you that as Rabbi of the city, I hereby administer to you a Biblical oath to tell the truth, you would not persist in your lies."

Reb Meir Simcha's powerful words, imposing stature, and flaming eyes completely disarmed the butcher and he admitted that his claims had been false all along.17

On another occasion, Reb Meir Simcha's keen insight into human nature rescued an innocent young man from a terrible fate:

The son of the rabbi of one of the villages in Latgale maintained a small grocery store, not far from the local church. A young servant-girl, who worked for the priest, regularly bought supplies from this store. One day, it became known that the girl had succumbed, and that she had imputed the act to the Jewish merchant. A paternity suit was swiftly brought against the young man and he was scheduled for trial the following week. Distraught and panic-stricken, the young man followed his father's advice and went to Reb Meir Simcha for counsel. After listening to the sorry tale, Reb Meir Simcha advised, "Announce before the judges that you are indeed the father of the child and are prepared to accept full responsibility for his upbringing as a Jewish child."

The Rabbi's advice left the pious young man thunderstruck, but he accepted the words as if they were written in the Torah itself.

The courthouse was packed and in the front row sat the accusing servant-girl and near her, the priest. When the young man stood up and announced his acceptance of paternity and his intention to bring up the child in Jewish tradition, the simple peasant-girl let out a cry "Oh no, holy spirit, I cannot allow the son of such a man to be brought up as a Jew!"

The priest's face turned crimson and the truth of the child's paternity emerged.18

A Reb Meir Simcha Sampler

Bereishis 24:7 - The fact that Abraham did not command Isaac to refrain from marrying a Canaanite woman is proof of the Maharik's position (167; Rama, Yoreh Deah 240:25) that a son is not required to listen to his father concerning the woman he wishes to marry.



His Special Way With Words

In seeking to define the special quality of Reb Meir Simcha which allowed him to influence so deeply the members of his community, we may follow his own example in discovering the uniqueness of many gedolim who had preceded him. For instance, he would single out the Nodah B'Yehuda for the clarity of his explanations, the Tumim for his intellect, the Vilna Gaon for the comprehensiveness of his erudition, the N'sivos for his profundity and Rabbi Akiva Eiger for his methodology.

A thorough examination of Reb Meir Simcha's Talmudic novellae in his magnum opus the Or Same'ach is beyond the scope of both this writer and this biographical sketch. But a clue to Reb Meir Simcha's success in human relations lies in a line from his monumental posthumously published work on Chumash, the Meshech Chochmah.

In Vayikra (5:20) Reb Meir Simcha explains a passage using the principle, "One of the characteristics of the Torah is that statements are arranged in accordance with the beauty of the language."

This concern with not only the content of what is said, but with the aesthetics of the framing of a statement, was a prime factor in Reb Meir Simcha's use of the spoken and written word. His every utterance radiated an elegance and refinement which granted every word he used a special and definitive meaning. Just as he believed every bullet had an address, he understood that every word had to speed directly to its target, else something infinitely precious would be wasted. Thus, in his dealings with transgressors of any kind, his words were not meant to hurt or destroy, but to nurse the spiritual wound and rebuild the ravaged soul.

One Shabbos, on his way to shul, Reb Meir Simcha met the son of one of the city's trustees as the young man was lighting his cigar. The disconcerted fellow stood riveted to the spot, the color quickly rising to his ears, as he was too frozen even to remove the cigar from his mouth.

"A gutten Shabbos, Meirel," said the Rabbi serenely, "you've no doubt forgotten it's Shabbos. Yes, of course, 'Remember the day of Shabbos to keep it holy,' " and the Rabbi proceeded on his way as if nothing had happened.

The young man was later to say it was a lesson he would remember for the rest of his life.19

The Fruits of a Torah Life

Reb Meir Simcha's acumen in judging human beings was not simply a personal wisdom, developed through scientific methods, enhanced by the fortune of an excellent brain. Reb Meir Simcha's sagacity was pure Torah. He knew no other source of knowledge, and indeed he neither sought nor needed it. By the time he was seven, the Tanach was on his fingertips; by nine, he knew one sixth of the Talmud thoroughly; by ten, he was teaching himself, for there was no longer a rebbe in Baltrimantz capable of teaching him Torah.21

By the time he was in his teens, Reb Meir Simcha had become - totally and completely - a vessel for Torah knowledge. His speech reflected statements in the Talmud, and indeed even in writings he never intended to publish, the cadences of Chazal are audible in every line.

An example may be found in a gloss written by Reb Meir Simcha in his youth upon a page of the Responsa of the Chasam Sofer. It was his custom to fill almost every sefer in which he studied with comments on the subject at hand.

In this particular responsum, the Chasam Sofer had strongly criticized a Talmudic discourse written by the author of the K'tzos Hachoshen, who was a Kohen. Reb Meir Simcha prefaces his remarks in defense of the K'tzos with the words: "A Kohen comes to the aid of a Kohen."

If we did not know otherwise, we might dismiss such a line as a mere curiosity, or perhaps a young would-be scholar amusing himself. But we are speaking of Reb Meir Simcha HaKohen, the future Or Same'ach, to whom each word is precious, and indeed, Torah. Thus, not surprisingly, the Gemara (Eruvin 105a and Chulin 49a) records that sages of the Talmud, also Kohanim, "came to the aid" of their brother Kohanim with appropriate interpretations of Scripture.22

Especially noteworthy, Reb Meir Simcha wrote his comment on an old volume in the bais hamidrash of Baltrimantz, never dreaming that the glosses would one day be published. Why then abstruse references to obscure statements in the Talmud which are not even relevant to the subject at hand? Because even then Reb Meir Simcha thought in terms of the words of the Talmud. Reb Meir Simcha's sichas chulin (ordinary talk) literally came from Mesechta Chulin, as well as all the other Talmudic tractates. Reb Meir Simcha in his teens was already a living embodiment of Torah - breathing, walking, and personally reflecting every line of the Talmud. What did he do then? He sat down for twenty-seven uninterrupted years to learn Torah.24

When Rabbi Lipele Halpern, author of the famed Oneg Yom Tov, passed away, the youthful Reb Meir Simcha was offered the vacated position of Rav of Bialystok. But Reb Meir Simcha felt he had to learn more, to delve deeper, to gain perfection, to become ... a gadol.

A Reb Meir Simcha Sampler

Vayikra 1:1 - Our early sages are in dispute concerning the reason for the commandment to bring sacrifices. The Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, states that sacrifices are meant to prevent the Jewish people from becoming lured into idolatry by the enticement of following their natural inclination toward sacrifice. The Ramban, strongly objecting, states that sacrifices accomplish results of far-reaching universal significance, beyond the furthest reach of the human mind. A meeting point of these two views may be found in the understanding that only the permission to sacrifice upon a bamah (private altar) was granted to avoid Jewish enticement to idolatrous practices. In the Bais HaMikdash, however, the purpose of the korbanos was always to perform those esoteric functions of the cosmos, which only the Creator totally understands.



Three Generations: A Chain of Fiery Holiness

An example of this ability to stand back and view himself objectively, to remain steadfast and "not enter to see the holy place" may be seen in an incident which occurred during Reb Meir Simcha's period of study in Bialystok.

A terrible canard had been circulated about Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, the Brisker Rav, and he was being brought to the capital city of Horodna for judgment. On the way to Horodna, the carriage carrying Reb Yehoshua Leib passed through Bialystok and all the Jewish townspeople went out to give honor to the great Rav of Brisk and to demonstrate their support. Reb Meir Simcha had wished to get close enough to Reb Yehoshua Leib to say "Shalom Aleichem," but upon nearing the carriage, Reb Meir Simcha gazed upon the holy visage of Reb Yehoshua Leib, who appeared to be more of heaven than earth, and ventured no closer.


Several years later Reb Yehoshua Leib conducted himself in a similar manner in relation to the Kosel Ma'aravi. Reb Yehoshua Leib lived within walking distance of the Kosel. He did not agree with those who maintain that it is forbidden to walk in the Kosel vicinity, yet, he never went. His close students relate that he was afraid that if he actually stood upon that holy spot, he would virtually faint from awe over the majesty of the place. On the one occasion that he did almost reach the Kosel, his entire body shook with uncontrollable tremors and he was literally in danger for his life.25

As if to complete the "triple braided chain which cannot be broken," it is told that when Reb Baruch Ber Leibowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Knesses Bais Yitzchok in Slobodka, heard that Reb Meir Simcha was coming to Kovna, he put on his Shabbos clothing and went to meet him. However, when he reached the house where Reb Meir Simcha was staying, he could not bring himself to enter.

"How can I approach him?" Reb Boruch Ber said. "The Rebbe, Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, called him the prince of the Torah." And he turned and went back to Slobodka. Thus we have three consecutive generations of gedolim who were so humble in their self-perception that they could not bring themselves to approach what they perceived as unattainable holiness ... What shall we say?

Beyond Time and Space

Despite Reb Meir Simcha's acute awareness of the decline of Torah greatness from generation to generation, when he was deeply immersed in learning Torah time and space were totally irrelevant. Since he would often pace while pondering Talmudic problems, Reb Meir Simcha occasionally found himself far from home, Gemara in hand, when he emerged from his reverie. A contemporary gadol relates that his cousin was present when Reb Meir Simcha climbed a ladder to reach a sefer on an upper shelf. Opening the sefer while still high on the ladder, he soon became engrossed in its contents and did not realize his position until morning.26

Thus we may observe in Reb Meir Simcha's work, and indeed in his life, a wonderful paradox. Living most of the day and night in the timeless universe of the Torah, Reb Meir Simcha was nevertheless one of the keenest observers and critics of the contemporary scene. His haunting prediction of the Holocaust and events leading up to it - "They will think that Berlin is Jerusalem" - is now famous and an integral part of any Torah-oriented syllabus of Holocaust studies.27 In his comments on Megillas Esther, Reb Meir Simcha discusses the then-current situation in Morocco and Romania.

One of Reb Meir Simcha's most provocative statements in his Meshech Chochmah concerns the deterioration of values in each new Diaspora, leading ultimately to the next one:

When they enter a strange land, they will undoubtedly be on a low spiritual level, a result of years of wandering and anguish. However, soon their inner, more noble and holy instincts will propel them to return, to learn, to advance, until their Torah knowledge and observance is on its highest achievable level.

Eventually, a new generation will have nothing to add in matters spiritual and sacred. They will slowly seek other areas in which to excel and to add to what their fathers have accomplished ... leading to denial of the value of their ancestral heritage ... [and] a storm of destruction follows.

(Interestingly, a theory on literary criticism that has gained prominence recently seems to echo this very same theme explicated by Reb Meir Simcha several generations ago.29)

The Last Days

In the summer of 1926, Reb Meir Simcha became critically ill and telegrams were sent from Dvinsk to gedolim all over the world to pray for their Rav. Reb Meir Simcha was staying at the Metropol Hotel in Riga, where he was being treated, and many gedolim visited him there. Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman later recalled that upon his suggestion that telegrams be sent to all yeshivos to say Tehillim in his behalf, Reb Meir Simcha responded characteristically with a statement from the Zohar that He Who cares for all of Israel will watch over this one of His sons also. One of Reb Meir Simcha's students, Rabbi Chaim Horash, relates (in his memoirs Simchas Chaim) of his visit to Reb Meir Simcha's bedside on 2 Elul, 1926, two days before Reb Meir Simcha's passing:

It was eleven o'clock at night and the Rav was laying in bed, his lips constantly moving. As I moved closer, I was able to hear that he was studying Taharos by heart. When he perceived someone's presence, Reb Meir Simcha looked up and said, "Is that you, my son? Sit, my son, sit." Then he said in profoundly moving tones, "Oh Hashem, my suffering is great. I cannot study Torah properly." And then his lips continued to move with the words of Mishnayos Taharos.

The Final Tribute

His funeral was well attended, but the greatest tribute was not the formal speeches.

The Chofetz Chaim, then the acknowledged elder sage of world Jewry, sat on the steps outside the bais hamidrash where the eulogies were being conducted (a Kohen, he could not enter) and was heard to lament, after reciting the names of gedolim who had recently passed on, "And now Reb Meir Simcha is also gone ... who has remained to guide us?"

Even the Rogatchover Gaon, who dismissed the greatest scholars of his age with a word or phrase, paid Reb Meir Simcha the greatest posthumous compliment.

Going to Reb Meir Simcha's cherished spot in the bais hamidrash, where he spent days and nights for almost half a century, the Rogatchover ordered that Reb Meir Simcha's shtender (lectern) be interred in the grave with him. The tradition of doing so is an ancient one but it is only performed where there is secure knowledge that the inanimate wood could testify in a Heavenly Court to its master's total dedication to Torah.30

In Reb Meir Simcha's case, both the shtender and the Rogatchover Gaon were thoroughly knowledgeable of the true extent of his dedication to Torah.

It is scarcely half a century ago, and yet ... we no longer live in Reb Meir Simcha's world, nor perhaps even understand it. But we can yearn.


FOOTNOTES

1. Rabbi Zev A. Rabiner, Rabbeinu Meir Simcha HaKohen, Tel Aviv, 1967, p. 192. [Return to text]

2. Rabiner, p. 174. [Return to text]

3. See article on the Rogatchover Gaon that follows. [Return to text]

4 Rabiner, p. 193. [Return to text]

5 Ibid. [Return to text]

6. Ibid. [Return to text]

8. S. Levenberg, The Jews in Latvia, Tel Aviv, 1971, pp. 225-227. [Return to text]

9. Rabbi S. Y. Zevin, Ishim V'shitos, Tel Aviv, 1966, p. 159. [Return to text]

10 Rabiner, p. 48. [Return to text]

12. Ibid., p. 38.[Return to text]

13. Ibid., p. 173.[Return to text]

14. Jews in Latvia, p. 266.[Return to text]

15. Rabiner, p. 186.[Return to text]

16 Ibid, p. 35.[Return to text]

17. Ibid.[Return to text]

18. Ibid., p. 187.[Return to text]

19 Ibid., p. 173.[Return to text]

21. Ibid., p. 17.[Return to text]

22. For a detailed explanation of this concept, see Rabbi Reuven Margolies, Mechkarim B'Darchei HaTalmud V'Chidutav Jerusalem, 1967, pp. 89-90.[Return to text]

23. Rabiner, p. 204.[Return to text]

25. Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, Moadim Uzemanim, Jerusalem, 1970, v. 222, note 2.[Return to text]

26. Heard from Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman tz"l, Rosh Yeshiva, Ner Israel- Baltimore.[Return to text]

27. Mesech Chochmah on B'chukosei 26:44.[Return to text]

29. Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading.[Return to text]

30. For more on this custom, see Rabbi Shlomo Ashkenazi, Doros B'Yisroel, Tel Aviv, 1975, p. 309.[Return to text]

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Sinagoga
Cietokšņa iela 38,
Daugavpils, LV-5400
Latvija

В память о нашем любимом муже, отце и дедушке
Льве Эльевиче (Хайм Арье-Лейб бен Элья) Бешкине
родился 17 Марта (23 Адара) 1955 года
умер 15 Июня (19 Сивана) 2006 года