Jerusalem - Rav Shlomo Moshe Epstein, One of The Last Remaining Talmidim Of The Chofetz Chaim, Zt"l
Jerusalem - Rav Shlomo Epstein, one of the last remaining talmidim of the Chofetz Chaim, passed away on Tu B’Shvat at the age of 95.
He was born in 1914 in Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lita, to a rabbinical family. His father, Rav Sender, was a member of the mehadrin shechita rabbinical board, and his mother was a gabbait tzedaka of the Remailles yeshiva ketana in Vilna. Many of today’s gedolei Torah ate “teg” in their home, including Rav Michel Yehuda Lifkowitz, the rosh yeshiva of Ponevezh yeshiva ketana, who remembers the family fondly.
From his youth, Rav Shlomo was known for his noble and pleasant ways. He studied in the local Remailles yeshiva under Rav Meir Bassin (the father-in-law of Rav Yisroel Gustman, the rosh yeshiva of Netzach Yisroel) and then continued his studies in the Radin yeshiva under the Chofetz Chaim. Until his last days, he considered himself a talmid muvhak of the Chofetz Chaim, and frequently quoted his words and his personal experiences with him.
Rav Shlomo regularly attended the private vaad of divrei chizuk and mussar which the Chofetz Chaim gave on Shabbos night after candle-lighting. He was also among a small group of bochurim who accompanied the Chofetz Chaim on his famous trip to Vilna to give a chizuk talk to the city’s Jews.
“It was impossible to enter the Vilna shul,” Rav Epstein recalled, “and all the roads and alleys leading to the shul were also packed by thousands of men, women and children. He couldn’t even reach the dais where the rabbonim were sitting, so strong fellows simply lifted his fragile body above the audience and carried him aloft to the front. Because of his frailty and old age, he couldn’t speak aloud, so Rav Baruch Ber Lebowitz was asked to repeat his words. Before he did so, Rav Baruch Ber opened the aron hakodesh and implored, “Ribono Shel Olam, guard me so I won’t stumble and add or detract from the rebbe’s pure words!” During this meeting, the Chofetz Chaim spoke of the many tikunim that the generation needed.”
Rav Epstein was also one of the bochurim who stayed with the Chofetz Chaim on the last day of his life. “We were painfully listening to his heavy wheezing, which echoed throughout the little house. For two weeks, all of us bochurim took turns staying with him, and now it was my shift. I looked at the clock and it was 3 in the morning. I was exhausted and told the other two boys with me that I was going to nap, and they should wake me up in an hour. Just as I laid down to sleep, my friend Yehuda Shulman barged through the door, looked at me with anguished eyes and said, “The Chofetz Chaim is no more!”
Rav Epstein left Europe to study in the Chevron yeshiva under Rav Yechezkel Sarna. From these years, he remained close friends to Rav Simcha Zissel Broida, Rav Avraham Farbstein, and Rav Meir Chodosh, zt"l, who took over the helm of the yeshiva until their passing.
When he left Radin, his friends gave him a parting gift of chiddushei Torah on Shas said by Rav Naftali Tropp. These maamorim were the only remnant of Rav Tropp’s shiurim that survived the Holocaust, and were eventually published.
He married into the Malinik family, one of the founders of Kfar Chassidim, and moved to the town. As the town secretary, he completely accepted the authority of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Eliyahu Mishkovsky. He was instrumental in the founding of Knesses Chizkiyahu yeshiva, gave shiurim to the local baalei batim, and generally raised the esteem of Torah in the local community. He headed the local Chevra Kadisha and instituted the stringencies of bnei Yerushalayim in its constitution. He was pivotal in the establishment of the many Torah institutions in Kfar Chassidim, and it becoming the Torah center of Israel’s northern coastal region.
He was an example to all of what a talmid chachom from the former generation looked like.
Ten years ago, he moved to the Mattersdorf neighborhood of Jerusalem to live near his children. His tefillos were passionate and he overflowed with stories of gedolim from the previous period, particularly those he grew up among and who were his mentors.
In the last few weeks of his life, weakness overcame him and he was hospitalized. On Tu B’Shvat night, he passed away.
His levaya was held in Torah Ohr yeshiva. Hespedim were said by the rosh yeshiva, Rav Simcha Sheinberg, who mentioned his great affection for the yeshiva’s students. Rav Yitzchak Ezrachi of the Mirrer yeshiva spoke about how Rav Epstein carried the demeanor of a ben yeshiva in every stage of his life, and how he faithfully passed on the teachings of his rebbeim, the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Naftali Tropp.
Rav Yaakov Krieger, rav of Kehilas Chaim in Mattersdorf, said that the verse “And Yosef and all his brothers and all that generation died” could be said about the niftar, who was closing the period of the prior generation. His sons also said heartrending hespedim.
He was buried in Kfar Chassidim, after being eulogized by the local rabbonim for his immense contribution to the town’s Torah development.
He left behind sons who followed in their father’s path: Rav Alexander, rosh yeshiva of Shaarei Torah, Rav Benzion, a maggid shiur in Torah Or, a daughter, and many grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.
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