Rav Meir Hershkowitz was the type of talmid chochom we read about in storybooks and wonder why we never meet such a person. A talmid muvhak of Rav Aharon Kotler, he was a tremendous masmid who toiled in learning day and night. Aside from his hasmodah, lomdus and amkus in learning, he was a tremendous onov, always humble, and a tzaddik.
For many years, when I lived in Monsey, I would host an annual parlor meeting on behalf of the Stamford Yeshiva. It was a special honor to help two of the greatest talmidei chachomim, tzaddikim and anovim of the generation. I would pity them each year as they would approach my home, Rav Simcha Schustal bent over, Rav Meir walking with the aid of a cane. There were no gabboim, no assistants, no airs, and no fanfare.
I would stand there, walking over to greet them, and think to myself: Look at these two tzaddikei hador, how they trudge about to try to keep their yeshiva afloat. I’d wish that there was something more I could do for them. Though they were well known and respected in yeshiva circles, in the wider world they were virtually unknown. I’d beg people to contribute, but invariably, they would only get small donations – nothing large, nothing major, nothing befitting their greatness in Torah.
And I would wonder why that is. Is it because you need special zechusim to help such special people? Or is it perhaps because Hakadosh Boruch Hu wants to keep for Himself great people and keep them untainted by olam hazeh and inyonim shelo lishmah? I never did figure it out, but each time they came, I wondered anew and thanked Hashem for giving me the zechus of having them in my home.
Every few years, there was a push to help the yeshiva and a dinner was arranged to raise desperately-needed funds. Some ten years ago, a dinner was held and I was selected to serve as chairman. In my message, I said that Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach once remarked that he didn’t understand how there could be lamed vov secret tzaddikim in our generation. He said that there is so much to do in our world and so many issues that require urgent attention. How can a person stay hidden as a lamed vov tzaddik?
He said that in our time, a tzaddik does not have the luxury of being able to hide from the public and remain in his own corner alone with his Gemara. In our day, a tzaddik has to make himself available to the masses of people who seek Torah wisdom and guidance.
I said that Rav Simcha Schustal and Rav Meir Hershkowitz provide the answer to Rav Shach’s question. The secret tzaddikim of our generation upon whom the entire world exists do not hide themselves from the public. They are out there in plain view, learning, teaching, davening and doing all they do with so much tzidkus.
They are tzaddikim nistorim not because they hide themselves from us, but rather because we hide ourselves from them. They never sought fame and glory, dedicating their lives to the klal, but people didn’t seek them out and thus they merited to sit and learn and deliver shiurim without being disturbed.
Rav Meir was blessed that he was able to spend his entire life toiling valiantly in the vineyard of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.
He was a world-class talmid chochom and tzaddik, American-born and bred, who developed into someone upon whose Torah the world stood.
He showed what a person could develop into if he applied himself to learning. Never seeking anything but the truth, with amkus and a tremendous koach hachiddush, he developed into one of the greatest talmidei chachomim America has given birth to.
His depth in learning was matched by the depth of his pure simplicity and his devotion to his talmidim.
At his massive levayeh, he was referred to as a malach, and that is what he was: an angel in the form of a human.
During one of those times when he was in my home for a meeting, someone borrowed his pen. It was a simple plastic pen, the type that we would buy in those days for nineteen cents. When the meeting was over, the rosh yeshiva asked for his pen, but it was not to be found.
We had given out Parker pens to boys who participated in the summer Masmidei Yated program. I took a pen that was left from then and gave it to Rav Meir. He looked at it, commented that it was a nice pen, and asked why I would give it to him. I told him that we used the pens for prizes for boys who learned well and we had a few extra.
With simplistic humility, he returned the pen to me. “I knew I had to be here tonight, and it was on my mind during the day,” said the rosh yeshiva. “I am not sure I learned well enough today to deserve it. I can’t take it.” Regardless of what I said, he refused to take the pen. He felt he wasn’t worthy.
Such anivus, such simplicity, such emes, such gadlus, such chesed. A giant among giants. He has now gone on to his eternal reward, reunited with his partner, Rav Simcha Schustal, his rebbi, Rav Aharon Kotler, and his great chaveirim from the early days of Lakewood with whom he learned and shteiged. He will be in the Mesivta D’Rokia with the Tana’im and Amora’im, the Rambam and the Rashba, the Vilna Gaon, the Ketzos and Rav Akiva Eiger, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, and all the others whose Torah he slaved over.
May he be a meilitz yosher for the members of the Olam HaTorah, whom he loved so dearly, and all of Klal Yisroel.