Yated: When were you accepted into the Sigheter Yeshiva?
Rav Weinfeld: Shortly after my bar mitzvah. Rav Yosef Shteichel, a renowned talmid chochom and Belzer Chossid, dubbed ‘Reb Yoshe Belzer,’ then lived near my parents in Williamsburg. Reb Yoshe was a yedid of Rav Alexander Asher Babad of Tartikov, and his son Rav Yechiel Babad, whom he called a “wunder-kind,” was learning in the Sigheter Yeshiva and was very matzliach there. Reb Yoshe told this to my father zt”l, who decided to enroll me in the yeshiva, where he hoped I would have a tachlis. I don’t think my father ever regretted the decision. It was an exceptional yeshiva, and the bochurim who learned there rose to great heights. I learned in the yeshiva for three and a half years, from Cheshvan 1962 until Pesach of 1965, when I entered the Satmar Yeshiva Gedolah on Bedford Avenue.
When did the bochurim have an opportunity to develop a close connection to the Rosh Yeshiva?
The Rebbe placed great emphasis on being there for the bochurim during the “fartugs,” or pre-dawn learning session, before davening. Every single fartugs, the Rebbe came to yeshiva and learned Shulchan Aruch with us. He repeated and explained every halacha in Shulchan Aruch very clearly, with tremendous clarity and simplicity, so that everyone should understand.
The Rebbe came every single morning, almost without fail. Throughout all my years in yeshiva, I remember several occasions that the Rebbe came a bit late. The Rebbe was so humble that it didn’t dawn on us that it wasn’t proper to ask about his uncharacteristic lateness. The Rebbe told us that he was dealing with a serious sholom bayis issue until very late at night, and then he said with a sigh, “Unfortunately, I was not successful.” We sensed his pain and anguish, and we keenly felt his ahavas Yisroel.
Another time, the Rebbe came late because he had to prepare a hesped for the levaya of a close mispallel. But ordinarily, the Rebbe was always on time, even if he had barely slept the night before due to pressing klal matters or because he had to resolve a thorny kushya.
Looking back, I find it hard to believe how we could have related to the Rebbe with such natural closeness, like children to a father. The Rebbe’s humility was astounding. I recall that if a bochur didn’t have a Shulchan Aruch for whatever reason, the Rebbe would call him over to learn bechavrusah, sharing one sefer.
Was the Rebbe always so soft-spoken and humble?
There was duality to the Rebbe’s essence. Although his personality was self-effacing and humble, he learned Torah with a bren and fire, with an emes that was obvious to all. The Rebbe’s clear-cut p’sakim were well-known and greatly respected among esteemed rabbonim. At many an asifas rabbonim, renowned poskim who were older than the Rebbe accepted the Rebbe’s p’sakim upon themselves.
The Rebbe once related to me how he had received hora’ah from Rav Shaul Brach of Kashau. The esteemed Kashau Rov wrote in his hora’ah that the Beirach Moshe was the fourth generation of Sigheter tzaddikim from whose mouth he is mekabel Torah. The Kashau Rov asked the Rebbe several insightful shailos, wanting to hear how the Beirach Moshe explained it according to halacha.
One of the multi-faceted questions included the following: “Let’s say a woman goes out to the field on Yom Tov, tears a parsnip out of the earth, and puts it into the soup. How many halacha shailos does this scenario present, and how are they resolved?” The Rebbe listed the numerous halachic issues with tremendous breadth and understanding of halacha, to the Kashau Rov’s approval.
Despite the Rebbe’s humility, when it came to piskei halacha, he was strong like a lion. He would spend hours being mefalpel in halacha with the greatest Torah minds, forgetting about the rest of the world. In his humble home on Hewes Street, he welcomed great talmidei chachomim, with whom he would ‘talk in Torah’ for hours.
Which sections of Shulchan Aruch did you learn in the yeshiva?
The Rebbe gave a shiur in Yoreh Deah. I remember that the Rebbe told us that when he was nine years old, he already knew sections of Yoreh Deah. His illustrious father, the Atzei Chaim, would wake him up early every morning to learn Shulchan Aruch.
While he was teaching us, the Rebbe would often say, ‘chas vesholom,’ when discussing scenarios in halacha. For example, “If, chas vesholom, a fleishige spoon falls into a milchige pot, etc.”
During the Rebbe’s shiurim, we learned hilchos melichah, treifos, ta’aruvos, and mikva’os. The shiurim were delivered with tremendous iyun, beginning with the loshon of the Gemara, the Rosh, the Rambam, the Tur, the Bais Yosef, and the Shulchan Aruch. The Rebbe’s depth and clarity helped us understand every halacha with all its components.
From time to time, we would visit the renowned Divrei Yoel’s yeshiva. Although we were much younger than the bochurim in Satmar, we understood the Divrei Yoel’s shiurim – which were more concise – due to the excellent preparation we were given in Sighet. Any talmid could approach the Rebbe at any time and talk with him in learning about any topic.
Not only could we speak to the Rebbe, but with his tremendous pashtus, he would often seek us out. I remember that many times the Rebbe would come into the bais medrash, stop the first bochur, and say, “This sugya is difficult for me to understand.” He would repeat the entire sugya, with the kushyos, verbatim, and then sit down with the bochur to learn it thoroughly.
Several times a year, the Rebbe would give drashos in shul, including on Shabbos Hagadol, Shabbos Shuvah, Shavuos, etc. Before giving the shiur, the Rebbe would immerse himself in a particular sugya, and for weeks scarcely anything else would exist. Anyone who would meet the Rebbe would be drawn into the sugya as well.
During the summertime, we would go to camp and the Rebbe would join us. When we began learning a new sugya, the Rebbe would be so involved that on Motzoei Shabbos, after Maariv, he would ‘talk in learning’ for an hour or more. Sometimes, the Rebbetzin would send a bochur at 11:30 p.m. to remind the Rebbe that he had not yet made Havdallah.
I remember one Chanukah, when the Rebbe was preparing to light the menorah. Several dozen Yidden were gathered in the Rebbe’s dining room to observe the hadlakah and hear the Rebbe’s divrei Torah. The Rebbe was absorbed in a Torah shmuess with his brother-in-law, Rav Yehudah Eizikson, the Achuzah Rov. The Rebbe lit the wax candle that would be used to light the menorah and continued talking in Torah, candle in hand. The shmuess continued for about 45 minutes and only ended as the candle was about to burn itself out! Then the Rebbe remembered that he had been preparing to light the menorah.
What was the Rebbe’s daily schedule?
The Rebbe spent the early morning hours in the yeshiva, and the rest of the day was devoted to rabbonus, paskening shailos, giving hashgachos, and overseeing dinei Torah. Three times a week, the Rebbe would visit his esteemed uncle, the Divrei Yoel, while he ate ‘breakfast’ during the late afternoon. The Rebbe would talk in learning with his Rebbe for a long time, discussing all the complicated shailos he was posed and various klal issues. The Divrei Yoel was like a father to him, imparting a derech haTorah and derech hachayim.
The Rebbe once related to us that he posed a shailah to the Divrei Yoel regarding the salting of chickens. Rav Yoel replied that he expended tremendous effort on this shailah, until he arrived at a certain conclusion. Interestingly, the halacha lemaasah was the same one that the Beirach Moshe had arrived at after much toil. This ‘meeting of the minds’ was a frequent occurrence.
On Taanis Esther, in 1964, the Rebbe was in yeshiva, when he was summoned to the home of the Divrei Yoel, who was bedridden with a roiz and high fever. The doctors had forbidden Rav Yoel to fast, but he was unwilling to obey. The Beirach Moshe was summoned to try and persuade his illustrious uncle.
When the Rebbe returned several hours later, I took the courage to ask him what had occurred at his uncle’s home. The Beirach Moshe related that he told his uncle the following: “In reality, the feter (uncle) is not allowed to fast. I assume that even if the feter is pottur, the feter does not want to be poreish from the tzibbur. I think, however, that if the feter already fasted half a day, the feter will not separate himself from the tzibbur.” The Divrei Yoel replied, “I also had the same opinion.” It seems that Rav Yoel was waiting to hear a p’sak from another rov in order to end his fast.
What else can you relate to us about the Rebbe?
As much as I will try to relate about the Rebbe’s greatness and tzidkus, and his exemplary pashtus, it will only be the tip of the iceberg. For example, there are many different types of bochurim in every yeshiva. Sometimes one of the bochurim did something childish, but the Rebbe never became angry. Instead, with infinite love and patience, he understood every bochur and how to deal with him.
I remember, during the summer, while we were in camp, the Rebbe would personally come to our rooms to wake us up in the morning to daven and learn. If a bochur sometimes forgot to prepare negel vasser, the Rebbe would prepare it for him! For a bochur who slept on the top bunk, the Rebbe would hold the negel vasser so that he could wash his hands. Sometimes there wasn’t enough milk for coffee and the Rebbe would bring milk from his own home for the bochurim. I can tell you numerous stories about the Rebbe’s greatness and, at the same time, his extraordinary humility, even in his later years.
I recall one story that happened many years later, when the Beirach Moshe was already known as the Satmar Rebbe. One morning, when he left his home on Bedford Avenue to go daven, he was stopped by a Yid who came from abroad to collect funds and had never met the Rebbe before. The Rebbe reached into his pocket to give the Yid a donation. Wanting to write a receipt, the collector asked the generous donor his name. “Moshe Teitelbaum,” the Rebbe replied simply, without adding his title. Only later, when the Yid went to shul and learned that the donor was none other than the Satmar Rebbe, did he realize who had given him the donation.
Towards the end of his life, the Beirach Moshe was unwell and needed to be seen by a doctor. The Chassidim arranged for the doctor to come to his home at 9 a.m. Since the Beirach Moshe was usually in the middle of davening during that hour, the Chassidim asked that the Rebbe daven a bit faster in order to be home in time for the doctor’s visit.
“What should I leave out of the davening?” the Rebbe wondered.
“Perhaps the Rebbe should omit the ten kapitlach of Tehillim that the Rebbe recites after davening,” the Chassidim said. “The Tehillim can be said later in the day.”
The Beirach Moshe replied, “I cannot leave out the Tehillim which I say at around 9:00, under any circumstances, for that is the hour that thousands of kinderlach go to cheder each morning. I say Tehillim davkah during that time, to beg the Ribono Shel Olam that the children go safely to cheder and come home safely from cheder. How can I push off saying Tehillim during that crucial hour?”
If the Chassidim had not arranged for a doctor’s appointment at that time, they would never have heard the reason behind the Rebbe’s Tehillim at that hour and the care and concern he showed for every single child.
May the merit of the holy Beirach Moshe be a blessing for Klal Yisroel.