BD’E – Hagaon Harav Moshe Wolfson, Zt”l, Mashgiach Ruchni of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and Rav of Beis Medrash Emunas Yisrael

By Hamodia Staff

For six decades, he transmitted Torah, emunah and chassidus to the thousands of talmidim in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. For half a century, he led an exalted kehillah in Boro Park in which he infused them each week with a unique davening, uplifting drashos, and providing the mispallelim with a makom Torah u’tefillah in which they could soar in their avodas Hashem. And then, this Motzaei Shabbos, Harav Moshe Wolfson, zt”l, known far and wide as the Mashgiach, was taken from the Torah world.

Although Rav Wolfson participated this Shabbos in the morning tefillos as usual, he was feeling unwell in the afternoon, and after Shabbos he was brought to the hospital. Soon thereafter, the holy neshamah of Harav Moshe Wolfson, who inspired generations to strive for ever higher heights in emunah and avodas Hashem, return to Shamayim, to the sorrow of the entire world of Torah and chassidus.

The Mashgiach was born on 23 Teves, 5685/January, 1925 to Reb Shmuel Yehudah, an immigrant from Poland who had settled in the United States. In his youth, he learned in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas under Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, the legendary Menahel of the yeshiva who was one of the chief architects of the fledgling yeshiva world in those years. Rav Moshe visited often some of the Chassidishe Rebbes who had come to America, including Harav Shaul Yedidiah Elazar Taub, the Modzitzer Rebbe, zy”a, and Harav Yochanan Perlow, the Stoliner Rebbe, zy”a. Later, he grew close to the Skverer Rebbe, the Satmar Rebbe, the Kopyczynitzer Rebbe, zechusom yagein aleinu, amongst others.

As a young bachur, he had an affinity for Neginah, and he composed several of his own nigunim. His chaver, Reb Benzion Shenker, z”l, told how he once approached Rav Moshe and sung to him a new composition of his own, but had not yet put the niggun to words. After hearing reb Benzion sing the tune, Rav Moshe suggested that the words of Hamavdil Bein Kodesh Le’chol, the zemer song on Motzaei Shabbos. Eventually, this niggun became a classic and is sung to those words in homes worldwide.

Rav Wolfson in Aish Dos (bottom row second from left).

Growing up in 1943 in what was then a land sparse of bnei Torah, Rav Moshe joined the Aish Dos program in Spring Valley, New York, a rebbi training course which was the brainchild of Rav Shraga Feivel. The bachurim learned in the morning under Harav Simchah Wasserman, zt”l, and spent the afternoon learning how to teach Torah to the younger generation. Although Aish Dos lasted just one year, it produced many prominent mechanchim which transformed the face of chinuch for decades to come.

Rav Wolfson married Rebbetzin Malka Devorah née Spitzer, the daughter of Reb Eliezer Lipman Spitzer who was a founder of Khal Adas Yereim of Vien. In the subsequent years, he was one of the few people to receive semichah from Hagaon Harav Yonasan Shteif, zt”l, who served as the Rav in the Viener Kehillah for several years.

As a master mechanech, Rav Wolfson began teaching 6th Grade in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, where he imparted his young talmidim with the sweetness of Torah. After several years, he required surgery on his vocal chords, and was no longer able to teach for the long hours. Harav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l, appointed him as Mashgiach in the Beis Medrash. Rav Wolfson delivered a vaad in the yesodos of emunah to the first year talmidim, often explaining that as descendants of the Avos Hakedoshim, each member of Klal Yisrael has faith in the Ribono Shel Olam imbedded in their DNA. “Just as a beaver knows how to build a dam without anyone teaching him, so too a Yid knows there is an Eibishter,” he would teach his talmidim.

In Camp Torah Vodaas with Harav Reuven Scheiner (left) and yblc Harav Yaakov Landesman (right)

After several years, Rav Wolfson was asked to lead the Masmidim program in Camp Torah Vodaas in which the younger bachurim had shiurim, and the older ones taught learning groups for the campers. Rav Wolfson taught a Gemara class for the campers, and many related how they gained a love of Torah through his calm demeanor as he imparted the sweetness of the sugya.

While leading the Masmidim, he implemented his own preference for davening in which the davening was b’kol ram, something the Mashgiach picked up from his connection with Stolin. On Friday night, he led a tish, where the Masmidim were joined by campers and counselors to sing zemiros and hear a short vort to uplift their Shabbos. Seudah shlishis raised them to another sphere, as they sat at the tinkeltish with the lights closed listening to the Mashgiach expound on the parshah and sang with great dveikus.

Following in the path set out by his Rebbi, Harav Shraga Feivel, Rav Wolfson blended together the minhagim of several different chassidus, thus integrating many different strands into a tapestry of avodas Hashem. He believed that the present weak generation, limiting oneself to just one path would not suffice, and it was necessary to draw from numerous wellsprings of Torah. He quoted often from an array of seforim, including the first generation of Talmidei Baal Shem Tov, the Chasam Sofer, Reb Tzaddok of Lublin, and Harav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch.

The Mashgiach often met with chassidshe Rebbes, and despite being older than them, he always subjugated himself to them. He was very close with the current Skvere Rebbe, traveling to him for Shabosos and give him kvittlech. Yet he expressed his anguish at the kavod shown to him whenever he visited Skvere.

On Chanuka, even when he was in his mid 90’s and already lightning Chanukah lecht in Emunas Yisrael in front of hundreds of talmidim, he would nevertheless go one night to watch the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, zy”a, as he lit his lecht.

The talmidim who grew close to him in camp decided they wanted to keep the ruach of those special tefillos and Shabbosos going throughout the winter, and they established a minyan in Boro Park. They invited the Mashgiach, who then lived in Williamsburg, to join them as mara d’asra, and he began attending the minyan every second week. Before long, the minyan solidified and expanded, renting a place above Khal Ungvar-Heichal Zichron Kedoshim. When the kehillah outgrew that place, they relocated to 4310 16th Avenue.

Khal Emunas Yisroel soon became a magnet for people who wanted a serious place to daven and grow in their avodas Hashem. The warm tefillos and inspiring drashos of the Mashgiach were filled to capacity. Many of his drashos were published in Emunas Itecha. In time, members of the kehillah opened a cheider and yeshiva, and the kehillah took its place as one of the prestigious ones in Boro Park. Branches soon opened in Monsey, Lakewood and Beitar.

Rav Wolfson was attached to kedushas Eretz Yisrael and visited often during the summers, delivering drashos for his talmidim who had moved there over the years. For many years, the Mashgiach would travel to Meron for the hilula of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai, explaining to a talmid, “Rav Shimon is making a chasunah and I am invited.”

The levayah took place Sunday morning, beginning with the taharah and a levayah at 8:45 a.m. in New Square; it then passed by Yeshiva Torah Vodaas at 425 East 9th Street in Brooklyn at 10:30 a.m., and continued at 11 a.m. at Beis Medrash Emunas Yisroel, located at 4310 16th Avenue in Boro Park.

Tehillim was recited by Harav Shlomo Lesser, followed by hespedim delivered by shlita: Harav Chaim Rosenberg, son in law and Rosh Yeshiva Shaarei Yosher; Harav Muttel Silber, son in law and Rebbe of Toldos Yehudah-Stichin; Harav Gedalia Machlis, son in law and Rosh Kollel Stolin; Harav Shmuel Yehudah Silber, grandson and dayan of Emunas Yisroel; and Harav Shmuel Dovid Hart, Rav of emunas Yisroel in Beitar.

It was announced that Harav Avraham Yitzchak Wolfson, shlita, son of the Mashgiach, was appointed manhig of Kehillas Emunas Yisroel of Monsey, and Harav Shmuel Yehudah Silber, shlita, a grandson of the Mashgiach (son of Harav Muttel Silber, shlita) was appointed manhig of Kehillas Emunas Yisroel of Boro Park.

The aron proceeded to JFK Airport for a flight to Eretz Yisrael, where another levayah will take place with kevurah near his Rebbetzin (was passed away three years ago) in Teveria.

Yehi zichro baruch.

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