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Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapiro - Daf HaYomi    

Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapiro - Daf HaYomi

Date of Passing: 7-Cheshvan. Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapiro, Rav of Lublin, revolutionized Klal Yisroel’s limud haTorah (method of Torah study).


Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapiro
Rabbi Yehuda Meir Shapiro, Rav of Lublin, revolutionized Klal Yisroel’s limud haTorah (method of Torah study). For the budding Torah scholar, he created the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, the first yeshiva in Poland to provide bachurim (Yeshiva students) with physical as well as spiritual nourishment, forming the Jewish nations' next generation of Torah leaders.
But for Jews as a whole, he also developed a revolutionary program that has turned thousands of simple Jews into Torah scholars, knowledgeable in the entire Shas (the entire Talmud): the Daf Hayomi (where all Jews throughout the world learn the same page of Gemara each day).
The Chofetz Chaim once expressed his appreciation of Daf Hayomi to Reb Meir. “I am especially fond of you-and do you know why?” asked the Chofetz Chaim. “Because of what you have achieved through the Daf Hayomi study program.
“In the World of Truth,” continued the Chofetz Chaim, “a person receives more honor for his Torah learning than for his good deeds. Each Jew is honored in accordance with how much Torah he has studied and is given a chair engraved with the names of the tractates that he learned.
“Until now, many of these seats were empty -people studied only certain tractates while others were neglected. Thanks to you,” concluded the Chofetz Chaim, “all the seats are now occupied, and there is incredible joy in the Heavens.”
On the day the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva opened its doors, Reb Meir stood before the entire student body - the future rabis and leaders of the Jewish people -and entrusted them with his life’s work.
“I have given you two precious stones,” he said, “Daf Hayomi and the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva. Guard them like the apple of your eye.”
With his deep understanding of the needs of our people, Reb Meir understood that Torah learning must be strengthened on many different levels because both the learned Torah scholar and the simple working man must learn Torah every day of their lives.
Rav Yehuda Meir Shapiro was born on March 3, 1887, in the city of Shatz, Romania. Reb Meir’s father, Reb Yaakov Shimshon, was a prominent Torah scholar who had served as the Rav and head of the Beis Din in Shatz.
Reb Meir was descended from a long line of renowned Rebbes. Reb Yaakov Shimon was a great-grandson of the well-known chassidic rebbe Reb Pinchas of Koretz. Reb Meir’s mother, Rebbetzin Margulya, was a daughter of the Manestritcher Rebbe, Reb Shmuel Shorr, who himself was a direct descendant of two famous halachic commentators, the Bach and the Taz.
Rebbetzin Margulya devoted her life to ensuring that her son would eventually grow into a Torah leader. Every single day she reminded him that a day without learning Torah is a day wasted.
When her son began his formal study of Chumash, Rebbetzin Margulya prepared a beautiful meal for the local rabbis, an indication of her great love for Torah. Reb Meir - who was only 4 years old at the time - kept his audience enthralled for over half an hour with an original Torah discourse!
One of those present was Reb Chaim Brody, whose brother, Reb Leib, had recently been appointed rav of Levov. After listening to Reb Meir’s drasha, he told the other rabbonim, “If Reb Meir was a little older, he could have become the next rav of Levov instead of my brother.”
Reb Meir was not only a genius, but also extremely diligent in his study. When Reb Meir’s health began to suffer as a result of the long hours he spent poring over seforim, the doctors insisted that he spend less time at his studies.
At 8 years old, Reb Meir had memorized much of the Talmud with Tosafot's commentary. When his parents forbade him to study for hours on end, he would take walks with a close friend and together they would review the Gemara that he had memorized.
The two boys once disagreed over which Amora said something in a particular Gemara, so they decided to stop at the home of the local shochet (ritual slaughterer) to look up the source. They were so desperate to find the answer that although there was no one at home, they climbed in through an open window.
As it turned out, both boys were correct - the Gemara quoted Rava while in the margin it was corrected to Raba. But the neighbors, who thought they heard burglars entering the shochet’s home, were surprised to discover that the “thieves” were really two young scholars.
By the time Reb Meir was 9 years old, his fame had spread and he was known far and wide as “the Illuy of Shatz.” Rabbis from throughout Poland and Galicia came to test the young Torah scholar who knew the entire Yoreh Deah by heart.
Once, Reb Meir’s grandfather, the Manestritcher Rav, came for a visit and took his grandson with him when he called upon the local rav. The two older men soon found themselves deep in a Torah discussion and unable to resolve a difficult question. Nine-year-old Reb Meir quickly explained away the difficulty.
When Reb Meir turned 14, he traveled to study under his grandfather in Manestritch. He sat alongside his grandfather as he answered halachic queries and he gained a deep understanding of practical halacha.
In February 1903, the Manestritcher Rav passed away and Reb Meir returned to Shatz. But during the one-and-a-half years he spent in Manestritch, Reb Meir obtained a broad understanding of Jewish life in Galicia-an understanding that would help him greatly in the years to come.
Reb Meir spent the next three years learning Torah nonstop. In 1906, at the age of 19, he married the daughter of Reb Yaakov Breitman, a wealthy merchant from Tarnapol. Shortly after his marriage, Reb Meir published his first book, Imrei Daat, a commentary on the weekly parsha.
Four years later, with the consent of Rav Yisroel of Tchortkov, Reb Meir left his studies in Tarnapol to become rav of Glina, a small town near Levov with a Jewish population of 2,000. Reb Meir was only 23 years old at the time.
With youthful vigor, Reb Meir revamped the entire spiritual life of the town. His outstanding leadership abilities were soon recognized as he succeeded in rebuilding and reconstructing one area of Jewish life after another in the little town, until Glina was transformed into a center of Torah-true Judaism.
Reb Meir was especially pleased with the cheder he established in Glina, Bnei Torah. Although today many of his innovations, such as providing the teachers with a monthly salary and having an organized curriculum, are the norm, at that time they were considered nothing less than revolutionary.
Reb Meir also established a yeshiva gedola for those boys who were able to continue with their learning. Slowly but surely Reb Meir became a father, leader and teacher to these youngsters, who responded in kind to his unstinting love and concern for them.
Reb Meir’s accomplishments in Glina were not lost on the wider Jewish community. Its leaders was so impressed with Reb Meir that in 1914, when Reb Meir was only 27 years old, he was appointed head of the Education Department of Agudat Yisrael in East Galicia.
All of Reb Meir’s projects, however, came to an abrupt halt during World War I. When the Russian Army occupied Glina, Reb Meir and his wife were forced to flee to Tarnapol. The Russians set fire to his home, destroyed all of his possessions, including a large private library and an entire edition of his sefer, Imrei Daat.
Even as a refugee, Reb Meir continued to serve as a leader and advocate for his fellow Jews. When the Russians began conscripting the Jewish men of Tarnapol into forced labor brigades, Reb Meir approached the commander and guaranteed to pay for a better non-Jewish labor force if the Jewish men would be allowed to return home.
After the war, Reb Meir felt that he had accomplished as much as he could in the small town of Glina, and accepted the position of Rav in the large city of Sonik, Galicia. Despite physical threats, Reb Meir immediately set about improving the city’s level of kashrut and mitzva observance.
Here, too, Reb Meir immediately got to work upgrading the city’s educational system by establishing an organized cheder and yeshiva. Hundreds of young students came from the surrounding towns to study under Reb Meir, who by then was well known as a master educator.
Reb Meir would not allow anyone to interrupt him while he was teaching his students. Once, the head of the community, a wealthy and prestigious leader, entered the beis medrash while Reb Meir was in the middle of delivering a shiur. Apologizing profusely, he insisted that Reb Meir come to his house immediately to discuss an important matter.
Reb Meir refused to leave his students. The Rosh Hakahal, for his part, would not take no for an answer. Reb Meir finally turned to him with a big smile and invited him to join him for a meal.
“What?” asked the bewildered gentleman. “Why would I come to eat with you now?”
Reb Meir could not help but smile as he replied, “The Talmud says that if someone stops learning Torah to get involved in a conversation, he is fed the burning embers of a broom fire (Chagiga 12b). Why should I eat alone? Come and join me.”
Reb Meir often insisted that the yeshiva accept boys with a limited religious background. He personally paid for their tutors and studied privately with them. Many of these bachurim eventually became Torah scholars of note.
In the spring of 1924, Reb Meir accepted the prestigious position of Rav and Av Beis Din in Piotrkov, Poland. At the inauguration ceremony, one of the other rabbonim jokingly asked him what he would do when all the former rabbis of Piotrkov come back to life in the time of the Mashiach.
“Their communities will return with them,” replied Reb Meir with a smile. “Then each rav will have his own flock to take care of.” “But Rebbe,” continued the other rav, “what will you do if the rabbonim return, but their communities do not make it?”
Reb Meir’s reply concisely explained his philosophy - and the secret to his success as a community leader. “Any rav,” he retorted, “who will not have the power in the Next World to bring his community back to life was not a proper rav in the first place. It is a rav’s duty to elevate his community and make them into God fearing Jews.”
In Piotrkov, Reb Meir immediately set about implementing this philosophy by strengthening the community’s level of religious observance. One of the first things he did was establish a comprehensive educational system for the city’s youth.
Although Reb Meir’s rabbinical duties would have kept any other man busy around the clock, Reb Meir found the time to represent Orthodox Jewry in the Polish parliament. It was during this period, as well, that construction began on the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva.
Jews throughout the world turned to Reb Meir with their most difficult and complex questions. In 1925, Reb Meir compiled many of them in a sefer, Ohr HaMeir.
Throughout the years that Reb Meir served in the rabbinate, he continued to be politically active and work for the good of Jews throughout the world.
In 1921 he represented Eastern Galicia at the first Agudat HaRabbonim convention held in Warsaw. The following year, Reb Meir was elected president of Agudat Yisroel. At first he refused the honor - he was already dreaming of building a bastion of Torah study - and only agreed after the Imrei Emes of Ger personally insisted that he accept the position.
Reb Meir began to restructure Agudat Yisrael and implemented a wide-ranging program to disseminate the Aguda’s philosophy.
Reb Meir literally became one with the Aguda. A journalist once asked him it if were true that he was now a part of Agudat Yisroel. “No," he replied. “I am not a part of the Aguda, the Aguda is a part of me.” With those few words he explained how the tenets of Agudat Yisrael had become the force that drove his very existence.
That same year, Agudat Yisrael won a seat in the Polish parliament, and Reb Meir, as Orthodoxy’s sole representative, became a champion for Jewish rights. The moment Reb Meir finished his sessions in parliament, however, he once again reverted to his role of community rabbi and Torah scholar.
Although a well-known public figure, Reb Meir never lost his gentle sense of humor and intrinsic modesty.
Reb Meir was once sitting with a group of politicians when a Jewish peddler, socks draped over his arms, approached to sell his wares. Reb Meir handed the peddler a substantial sum of money. The peddler, in turn, took several pairs of stockings and handed them to Reb Meir.
“We don’t need them,” retorted Reb Meir, in his usual unassuming manner. “We are all involved in politics and, as you know, the business of politics is all lies and falsehood. It says in the Talmud, ‘Sheker ein lo raglaim,’ ‘Falsehood has no feet.’ Since there are no feet in our business, we have no use for stockings.”
Reb Meir’s political career continued until 1928, when he left politics to devote himself to spreading Torah.
It was in 1934, at the Aguda’s first Knessia Gedola, that Reb Meir suggested the development of an international learning program, Daf Hayomi, which would eventually revolutionize Torah learning. Daf Hayomi, a daily study of Gemara, united Torah true Jews throughout the world through Torah study. Reb Meir calculated that with this program even a simple working Jew would be able to complete the entire Shas in seven years.
“This program,” wrote Reb Meir, “will create a common language among our people. When two Jews from different towns, or even different countries, meet, the knowledge they share on the Gemara currently being studied will help them form a deep bond of friendship.
“Jews will gain new direction in their lives. A day without Daf Hayomi means a day lost in the steady journey that the entire Jewish nation Yisroel is making toward attaining greatness in Torah. The sense of obligation and the regularity of the program will help the common man continue learning.”
And the Daf Hayomi did just that. People burdened with the need to earn a living became as scrupulous about attending their daily Daf Hayomi shiur as they were about putting on tefillin. The moment they knew that the shiur was about to begin, they would drop whatever they were doing and join their friends to study the daily daf. Unlearned working men slowly turned into Torah scholars, while Torah scholars widened the scope of their learning.
Reb Meir had already begun to lay the groundwork for the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva at the first Knessia Gedola. He called upon each person there to mark the end of his daily session of Daf Hayomi by setting aside a small sum of money for the building of a national yeshiva.
On Lag B’Omer, 1924, the cornerstone was set in place, and construction on the yeshiva began. Reb Meir had spent years dreaming of a large yeshiva gedola with both a beis medrash and dormitory-something almost unheard of in those days. His yeshiva would only accept bachurim with the potential to become the leaders of the next generation, and he wanted these boys to be able to devote themselves entirely to their Torah studies.
Reb Meir had originally planned to fund the entire project through local donations. But the Polish government, in a futile attempt to repay its war debts, began to print money without backing, causing the value of the zloty to drop drastically - and with it, Poland’s standard of living. Many wealthy Jews who had pledged large donations were now unable to honor their promises.
Reb Meir soon realized he would not be able to meet his financial obligations, so he spent the next two years traveling throughout Europe and America collecting funds to make his dream a reality.
While in America, Reb Meir succeeded in not only raising funds, but in instilling many American Jews with an awareness of the prime importance of learning Torah.
“I feel a sense of satisfaction about one thing,” he later told his students. “In every town I visited, in every talk I gave, I succeeded in rejuvenating Judaism. People were awakened to spirituality and felt a need to reconnect with their Maker. Let this, at least, be my reward for my hard, relentless labor.”
An example of how Reb Meir conveyed this message can be seen from a conversation he once had while visiting a small rural community in the United States. One of the local Jews complained to Reb Meir that since few customers came into his store, he was not able to make a livelihood - and therefore could not give a donation to the yeshiva.
“What do you do when there are no customers in the store?” asked Reb Meir.
“I read a book,” he replied.
“Listen to me,” said Reb Meir. “Instead of reading a book, say Tehillim or study Torah. Then the Satan will send people to interrupt you. When you waste your time reading a book, he is quite pleased and will persuade the customers not to bother you.”
The day June 24, 1930, was a veritable Yom Tov for the Jews of Poland. It was the day the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva officially opened its doors. It was also the day that Reb Meir was appointed Chief Rabbi of Lublin.
The night before the opening ceremony, an endless stream of buses and taxis arrived in the city, overflowing with Jews from the surrounding regions. Every hour another train pulled in and hundreds of rabbis and Torah scholars disembarked. Lubartov Street was quickly crammed with throngs of Jews wanting to be on hand for this historic event.
During the ceremony, Reb Meir stood on the balcony of the yeshiva between the Gerrer Rebbe and Tchortkover Rebbe. When he first made his appearance, the crowd below began to clap and cheer, “Yechi,” “Long live.”
Reb Meir first addressed the crowd in Hebrew, publicly thanking God for allowing the yeshiva to open its doors. He then thanked the Polish government in Polish. Finally, he proclaimed in Yiddish:
“Now a word to my brethren. What was it that moved me to build this yeshiva? If you have ever seen how the yeshiva bachurim are forced to sleep in the stores and shops while working as night watchmen, or if you have ever observed their poverty, then you will understand why I built a yeshiva like this one.”
Reb Aharon Ashinsky, a rabbi in Pittsburgh, Pa., traveled from the United States to Poland to get a first-hand look at the newly built yeshiva. After thoroughly examining the building, he told Reb Meir, “I am amazed to find that this building is as grand and majestic as you had told us it would be.”
Reb Aharon later published an article about the yeshiva in the Yiddish press. “There really are one hundred rooms,” he wrote. “But why did the Rav of Piotrkov say there was only one hundred? For American publicity he should have said that the building consists of one thousand rooms.”
The yeshiva only accepted accomplished Torah scholars; to be admitted, a bachur had to have mastered over 200 pages of Gemara. The yeshiva soon became a bastion of scholarship.
Reb Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, Av Beit Din in Bnei Brak, recently told two Israeli rabbanim the following story from his days as a student in Reb Meir’ s yeshiva:
“All of Rav Meir Shapiro’s thoughts and deeds were dedicated to expanding Torah scholarship. One year, one of the bachurim approached Reb Meir and asked him what present he would like to receive on his birthday, the 7th of Adar.
“‘I would like the entire Shas,’ said Reb Meir. ‘On the seventh of Adar, I would like each of the bachurim to learn several pages of Gemara so that, together, all 250 boys will complete the entire Shas in one day.’
“On that day,” continued Rav Wosner, “the walls of the yeshiva reverberated with the sound of Torah, while the boys remained bent over their shtenders (tables) the entire day. Reb Meir sat in his usual place at the front of the beis medrash. His eyes shone and it was obvious that his heart was full of true nachat.
“We finished the entire Shas with the approach of nightfall. The intensity of our joy was beyond description.
“One of the bachurim,” recalled Rav Wosner, “was an incredible genius. On that day, he learned one-hundred-and-seventy-six pages of Gemara. His eyes never left the open Gemara.
“From the greatness of the Reb Meir’s students,” concluded Rav Wosner, “it is possible to gain an understanding of his greatness.”
Reb Meir passed away on the 7th of Cheshvan. A few hours before he died, he motioned to his rebbetzin to draw close to his bed. Unable to speak, Reb Meir wrote a note with shaking hands. “Why are you crying?” he wrote. “Now there will be the real joy.”
Reb Meir then gestured to his talmidim to dress him in a new white shirt and arrange his peyos. Signaling again for a pencil, he wrote, “All of you should drink a l'chaim.”
Whiskey and cake were brought in and handed out to all of those present. Blessings were made and then each talmid, in turn, stood before Reb Meir and shook his hand. Reb Meir warmly held onto each of his talmidim for a few moments while looking deeply into his eyes.
After each one had bid his rebbi farewell, it became obvious that Reb Meir was struggling to speak. Finally he formed the words, “Becha botchu avoseinu,” “Our fathers trusted in You.” The talmidim understood that Reb Meir wanted them to sing the melody he had composed to accompany these words.
As the talmidim sang, they began to dance. They danced as they had never danced before. Tears rolled down their cheeks - their hearts were breaking - but they continued to dance around their rebbi’s bed. While they were dancing, hundreds of other bachurim stood in the next room tearfully reciting Tehillim.
With every passing second, Reb Meir’s condition worsened. The talmidim realized that within a few moments their rebbi would leave them.
Reb Meir detected the bachurim’s muffled sobs, and motioned for one of them to come closer. “Nor mit simcha,” “Only with joy,” he whispered.
These were Reb Meir’s last words. A few minutes later, as the bachurim continued dancing, Rav Yehuda Meir Shapiro’s soul departed from his body. He was 46 years old.
Eighteen years earlier, Reb Meir had developed a serious case of typhus and was at death’s door. Some of his friends had offered to give him years of their own lives.
They had offered him 18 years.
All over Poland, the newspapers put out special editions with detailed biographies of the Lubliner Rav. One of the newspapers described him as nothing less than “the Jewish king.”
The Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin was destroyed during World War II. The Nazis particularly enjoyed destroying its famed library-which took over 20 hours to burn.
After the holocaust, Reb Meir’s grave was the only one left standing in the Lublin cemetery. In 1958, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudat Yisrael brought Reb Meir’s remains to their final resting place in Jerusalem.
Although Reb Meir had no children, he considered his talmidim to be his sons, and they looked up to him as their father. Much of the Torah scholarship existing today is in the merit of Reb Meir; in truth, all lovers of Torah can be considered Reb Meir’s spiritual heirs.
May his memory be a blessing.
Source: matzav.com

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