Thursday, November 30, 2023

Parshas Vayishlach 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach

18 Kislev 5784/ December 1, 2023


Not far from our home in Monsey/Spring Valley is the Jewish cemetery where many great tzaddikim are buried. There is an enclosed area, where, most notably, is the kever of the Ribnitzer Rebbe. In the vicinity are the kevarim of the previous two Skulener Rebbes and the late Viznitzer Rebbe. There is another section of the cemetery outside the wall where Rav Mordechai Schwab, the tzaddik of Monsey, is buried. There are many other great people buried throughout both sections of the cemetery.

On one occasion, I was davening at the kever of Rav Schwab, when I noticed some people davening at a kever nearby. The cemetery was virtually empty, and it didn’t seem like the other people had come together. Ever curious, I asked one of the people leaving if it was the yahrtzeit of a tzaddik I was unfamiliar with. He explained that he had come to daven at the kever of Rav Moshe New Yorker. When I asked him who Rav Moshe was, the man shrugged and said he had no idea, except that he knew that great things have occurred for people who davened there.

I was intrigued that I had never heard of Rav Moshe New Yorker. When I walked over to his kever it was abundantly clear that many people frequented it. There were many rocks piled atop the matzeivah, and numerous kvitlach spread across it. There was also a place to light candles. The glowing epitaph showed that he was a holy man.

I wanted to know more about the mysterious tzaddik I had never heard of. I knew he had lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. But when I asked some former residents of the Lower East Side, including my parents, if they knew of him, they all said that they had never heard of him.

It took some research and inquires before I connected with Rabbi Moshe Chaim Steinberg, currently of Boro Park, NY, who remembers him well. Rabbi Steinberg shared some fascinating anecdotes and memories he had of Rav Moshe.

Back in the day, Rav Moshe was indeed a familiar figure on the Lower East Side. He would walk from shul to shul to daven and learn in all of them. When asked why he explained that he was fulfilling the words of the Mishna, “One should be exiled to a place of Torah.”

Following Kristallnacht, he escaped Berlin and came to New York. Beyond that he never spoke about himself or his experiences.

Those close to him knew that he was brilliant and fluent in many languages.

He learned Tanach, Bavli and Yerushalmi by heart and the entire Zohar on the parsha every week. He was well versed in all Medrashim, the seforim of the Shelah Hakadosh, Maharal, and classic Chassidishe seforim. But the average person had no idea he even knew how to learn.

He was cordial and pleasant but also a recluse and kept very much to himself. He had little connection with this world. He didn’t own a telephone and he learned by the light of a candle and wouldn’t use electricity. In fact, nobody knew his last name.

For years he ate the Shabbos day seudah in the home of the Kapishnitzer Rebbe, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel zt”l. The Rebbe would refer to him as “Moshe foon Henry Street”.

Others referred to him as Moshe der royter because of his red beard, or Moshe der porish because he separated himself from anything connected to the physical world.

On one occasion he was davening in the back of the Satmar Beis Medrash. Uncharacteristically, the Rebbe, Rav Yoylish zt”l walked across the Beis Medrash to greet him. When the Rebbe asked him his name he just replied “Moshe”. When the Rebbe asked him where he only replied, “New York”. From then on people would refer to him as Moshe New Yorker.

In the rare occasion that he had a dollar bill he would look at the code on the bill and share a gematriah or attribute spiritual meaning to the numbers. Any money he had he immediately gave away to tzedakah.

He was always the first in the shul every morning. He would prepare the candles in shul, and he would hang up hand-drawn signs to remind people about the special insertions in davening (mashiv hurach, tal umatar, etc.). He wouldn’t speak at all until after he davened shachris.

Rabbi Steinberg relates that when he invited Rav Moshe to come to his wedding, Rav Moshe apologized and said he couldn’t attend because, “I am from the galus yidden so I can’t go to weddings.”

For many years Rav Moshe lived in a small room under the Boyan shul. Until his later years no one was allowed to enter. In later years when he needed assistance, those who came into his room saw many frayed and well used sifrei Kabbalah strewn around.

Over time, the Boyaner gabbai noticed mail arriving for Max Feil. That’s how they eventually found out that his real name was Moshe Feilschuss.

On one occasion during his later years, Rav Moshe was hospitalized. He refused to accept the IV the hospital wanted to administer, and the hospital was going to restrain him. Rabbi Steinberg came to the hospital and found one of the leading doctors in Beth Israel Hospital at Rav Moshe’s bedside. The doctor pulled Rabbi Steinberg aside and asked him if he knew Rav Moshe personally. When Rabbi Steinberg said he did, the doctor asked him if he thinks Rav Moshe is crazy. When Ravbi Steinberg replied that he knew Rav Moshe to be highly intelligent, the doctor told him he is convinced that Rav Moshe is a genius. He showed Rabbi Steinberg that on the IV bag were listed all the contents in the IV. He then explained, “Almost no doctor in this hospital is familiar with these contents. I am because this is an area of my expertise. When they wanted to hook up the IV to the patient, the patient pointed to one of the contents in the fine print on the bag. I realized that it’s the only ingredient that has pig fat mixed into it. That’s why he refused to allow us to administer it to him.”

Rav Moshe would feed birds every day. Hundreds of birds would flock around him as he threw crumbs towards them. While feeding them he would recite pesukim.

He never said anything negative about anyone. On one occasion, someone physically assaulted Rav Moshe, throwing him to the floor. Rabbi Steinberg was present when it happened and when he rushed to help Rav Moshe up, he told Rav Moshe that the assaulter was crazy. Rav Moshe became upset and immediately countered that the man often helped him.

Most people thought Rav Moshe was eccentric and strange. They didn’t know that he spoke in riddles and the strange comments he made always had hidden depth and meaning. For example, when walking past tall buildings in the city he would comment that he built them.

When asked afterwards what he meant he replied that it was Maseches Shabbos or Maseches Bava Basra. He referred to his accomplishments in learning as great buildings.

He would often speak about things that were going to happen. When asked how he knew he replied that the feigelach - birds told him. His predictions always came true.

At the end of his life, Rav Moshe moved to Monsey where he frequented the shul of the Nikolsburger Rebbe and was a familiar face there.

On one occasion, Rav Moshe passed out on the floor of the Nikolsburg shul during davening. He lay on the floor unconscious. When the Paramedics arrived, a female paramedic was about to grab Rav Moshe’s hand when he stood up and began shouting that she shouldn’t touch him.

Rav Moshe was niftar on Shabbos Hagadol. On Motzei Shabbos the Nikolsburg Beis Medrash was packed for the levayah. The Nikolsburger Rebbe was the only one who spoke. He quoted the pasuk והאיש משה לא ידענו מה היה לו referring to the fact that no one really knew the greatness of Rav Moshe New Yorker.

Even those who saw him constantly were not aware of Rav Moshe New Yorker’s hidden greatness and piety.


Chanukah is a celebration of the revelation of light in darkness. It’s a time to also remember that there is much greatness in others that we often don’t recognize. The light is shining, whether we recognize it or not.

May Rav Moshe New Yorker be a maylitz yosher for all Klal Yisroel.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum