A glimpse into the life of Rabbi Moshe Feigelstock ztz"l, a true eved Hashem, master mechanech, resolute pillar of Torah values, and humble tzaddik
never thought I would see the word ztz”l after Rabbi Feigelstock’s name. He was an iron man, indestructible — ageless and timeless. I kind of expected him to be with us forever.
It is humbling to even attempt to depict elements of the life of this angel in the form of man, who was light years beyond my puny comprehension. What follows are simply recollections; a very small glimpse into the life of a true eved Hashem, master mechanech, resolute pillar of Torah values, and humble tzaddik.
My first encounter with Rabbi Feigelstock was at my farher to be accepted into his nascent Yeshiva Tiferes Elimelech, when I was four years old. Although I have no recollections of that initial meeting, I do remember the farhers of my younger brothers. They were long! Forty-five minutes of Rabbi Feigelstock sitting with them at a little table playing with toys, colored pencils, making change with pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, asking questions about shapes and sizes, and making conversation, all with an eye toward truly understanding the unique personality and inner workings of each potential talmid.
Although he was the dean, responsible for the welfare of the entire institution, his involvement did not cease after those initial meetings. He remained personally immersed in the struggles and progress of each of his thousands of talmidim throughout the course of their years in his yeshivah and beyond. That he knew us all by name goes without saying. He held frequent meetings with his staff, reviewing the progress of each talmid. It was not uncommon for him to spend several hours in discussion with a rebbi helping to craft an appropriate approach to solving the challenge of a single boy. He did so enthusiastically and unfailingly, until the last day of his life.
This in-depth individual attention to the needs of each talmid was the hallmark of his successful approach to chinuch habanim.
As talmidim, we were in awe of him. Periodically, he would administer a bechinah for the entire class. Although long and exhaustive, they were true educational moments. The atmosphere was one of utmost respect; you could hear a pin drop. Through these interactions, he cultivated within us his approach to the intensity and depth of Torah, as his penetrating questions trained us not to fool ourselves with superficial pseudo-understandings. We absorbed by osmosis a refined value system, as his focus was always on what was important in life and what was not. And perhaps most importantly, he imparted by example that Torah values and good character were not theoretical or academic, to be left relegated to the classroom; they were to be lived and modeled, every day of our lives.
I will never forget the time he began a bechinah by asking, “What is the first thing you would do upon entering beis din?” After a half hour of rejecting every answer we bravely put forth, he finally revealed the answer he was looking for. “The first thing you do upon entering beis din is kiss the mezuzah! And the second thing you do is say shalom aleichem!” Although the academic portion of that bechinah may have been long since forgotten, the eternal lesson of the reality of an organic, living, vibrant Torah that is chayeinu v’orech yameinu will remain emblazoned upon our neshamos forever.
Rabbi Feigelstock’s chinuch interactions were not limited to his talmidim. If his farhers for four-year-olds were rigorous, they paled in comparison to the exhaustive marathon sessions that potential rebbeim endured. A rebbi wasn’t just a hire; a rebbi was his partner in passing along the pure mesorah to the next generation. Among other necessary qualities, a rebbi had to value the individuality of his talmidim, recognize their potential, perceive their challenges and needs, be a team player, help transition the talmidim seamlessly from grade to grade, and, above all, be a positive role model and oved Hashem.
Every member of his staff, even seasoned mechanchim with decades of teaching experience, spent countless hours with him on a regular basis, absorbing his vision and his precise implementation of the principle of chanoch l’naar al pi darko. Staff members often initiated these conversations, since each discussion left them greatly enriched.
His staff meetings were legendary. They could stretch for hours on end, yet he would never leave his seat during these meetings. He would ignore pressing personal needs, remaining completely focused on the task at hand until he felt satisfied with the conclusions. Clocks were not allowed in meeting rooms; time was irrelevant when dealing with the needs of a talmid.
When meeting with others, he listened intently, asking pertinent questions as necessary. Seeking to learn from others, and to not intimidate his staff, he would voice his opinion only after everyone else had shared theirs. He did not pull rank or order his staff what to do, but preferred to discuss the issue at hand until clarity was achieved and they reached a consensus about how to proceed.
He would not give up on a talmid. Even when others would throw up their hands in frustration, he would prevail on them to give the talmid another chance. There were times when he would accept a student into the yeshivah over the objections of staff members. Even if a boy had been turned away or expelled from another yeshivah, or if a talmid had left the yeshivah, and subsequently wanted to return, he would accept him if he felt, after the farher, that the boy had a desire to learn and grow. He was not swayed by how others viewed his decisions. What mattered was the Will of Hashem.
Not surprisingly, like happy children in a well-adjusted family, we young talmidim had little appreciation for the exquisite chinuch we were receiving. It was only much later, as we grew older, that we began to realize how lucky we were. Rabbi Feigelstock had assembled the finest group of rebbeim, morahs, teachers, principals, and office staff, many of whom worked together for close to 40 years!
Rabbi Feigelstock’s prodigious chinuch efforts were not limited to his own yeshivah. Deans, principals, rebbeim, morahs, curriculum directors, and private individuals consulted with him regularly on all matters pertaining to chinuch. He invested great energies in assisting all who sought his advice, analyzing each query with gravity and devoting the requisite time to formulate an appropriate response. He also cared deeply about the children of his talmidim and inquired in detail about their well-being and chinuch. It is not an exaggeration to say that his wisdom and sagacious advice in chinuch matters have benefited many tens of thousands of bnei Torah throughout the United States and beyond.
Even when we were adults, our every encounter with him was marked by overwhelming reverence. We were still his talmidim, and when standing in his presence, we had absolute clarity as to our obligations in this world — and as to whether or not we measured up.
As we grew older and matured, we began to appreciate his tremendous tzidkus, and realize that he lived in a perpetual state of standing before the King. He was unwavering in his values. If he was convinced that he was following ratzon Hashem, nothing in the world could budge him.
His dikduk b’mitzvos was remarkable, his knowledge of halachah comprehensive, and his bitachon in Hashem unswerving. No talmid can ever forget the way Rabbi Feigelstock davened or made a brachah. In his unique singsong niggun, he would enunciate each word clearly, with intense kavanah and feeling, in a personal communication with Avinu shebaShamayim.
He was the consummate ish emes, possessing not an ounce of falsehood. He had no desire for kavod. He would slip into rooms quietly so people wouldn’t notice and stand up for him. It was never about him; it was always about doing the right thing in the eyes of Hashem. He was tocho k’baro. Perhaps that is why he was a role model for his talmidim to look up to and emulate. We perceived a human being who truly lived the lofty ideals that he so eloquently preached.
It is difficult to believe that we no longer share a world graced by the presence of Rabbi Feigelstock, but the countless neshamos he ignited will continue to illuminate our path forward as we proudly carry on his mission of imparting Toras Hashem to the next generation.
Yehi zichro baruch.
Yisroel Tzvi Serebrowski, a talmid of Rabbi Feigelstock ztz”l, is the founding rav of the Torah Links kehillah in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 568)
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