A Glimpse of Greatness
November 25, 2021
A Conversation with Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss Shlit”a
Two men trudge through the snow-blanketed streets of an unforgiving New York City neighborhood, bowing their heads and pulling their coats tightly around them as they fight against the brutal winter wind. The weather notwithstanding, they push forward—they are on a mission, and they won’t stop until their goal of saving Yiddishe neshamos is achieved.
The two men are Rabbi Chaim Mintz, the legendary founder of Oorah, and his young protégé Moshe Meir Weiss, a bachur who will eventually become a world-renowned rav and inspirational speaker whose wisdom and warmth will impact the lives of tens of thousands across the world.
They are looking for menorahs—electric, oil, or halogen, it doesn’t matter. A menorahmeans there are likely young Jewish boys and girls inside, their neshamos calling out for a fellow Jew to introduce them to authentic Yiddishkeit. And so, onward they push, fighting for the souls using the menorah as a beacon for help.
Finding a window with a menorahcasting its soft glow outward, the pair hurry up the front steps and knock, their numb, frozen hands’ banging barely audible to them over the roar of the raging blizzard.
The door opens a crack.
“May I help you?” a barely visible man calls out from behind the door.
“Hello, we’d like to give your child a Chanukah present,” young Moshe Meir responds.
The man, looking confused and flustered, slowly swings the door open and invites the freezing men inside.
Rabbi Mintz and Moshe Meir carry in two gift packages, one wrapped in pink, the other in blue.
“You’ve got a gift!” the man calls out.
Scampering down the stairs, a boy stares at the two rabbis standing in the foyer holding gift-wrapped boxes. Hesitantly, he opens the blue one, and his eyes grow wide.
“Space Invaders! Space Invaders!” he shouts as he jumps up and down.
Broad smiles break out over the faces of Rabbi Mintz and Moshe Meir.
Space Invaders is the hottest toy on the market and is on several months’ back order—you can’t get your hands on it if you try. But somehow, Rabbi Mintz worked it out.
Turning to the boy’s parents, both of whom are now in the room, Moshe Meir asks, “Have you ever considered sending your son to a yeshivah?”
And thus begins a journey for the young boy that will lead him to the warm embrace of Yiddishkeit. Some two decades later, Rav Moshe Meir Weiss embraced him under the chuppah as he began another journey—that of building his own Torah’dik home.
Moshe Meir Weiss was born and raised in Boro Park by parents who had both miraculously emerged from the churban in Europe. They named their son after his maternal grandfather, R’ Moshe Weinstock z”l,and his paternal grandfather, R’ Meir Weiss z”l, one of the kedoshim of Auschwitz.
Moshe Meir’s father, R’ Hershey Weiss z”l, underwent three of Joseph Mengele’s infamous selections while imprisoned in Auschwitz and survived each one. He was eventually led on the infamous death march out of the labor camp before being liberated by American troops.
His mother, Esther Freidl tbd”l,escaped from Budapest with her parents in 1938, arriving in America on what was billed the “last boat out.”
As a young boy, Moshe Meir attended Yeshiva Tiferes Torah, led by Rabbi Sol Jacobson and Rabbi Yehuda Davis, the rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Zichron Meir of Mountaindale. Afterward, he went to Yeshiva of Staten Island and grew into a ben Torah under the tutelage of the posek and gadol hador, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, who quickly took a liking to this 13-year-old talmid.
“I was zocheh to have a very close relationship with Rav Moshe, his rebbetzin, and his entire mishpachah,” Rabbi Weiss tells me in a sit-down interview. “The warmth of Rav Moshe was unparalleled. The varmkeit he showed his talmidim, his rebbetzin, and his entire mishpachah was astounding, and the thread of kindness ran through everything that he did.”
For 10 of the 11 and a half years that he learned under Rav Moshe—during which he received semichah—Moshe Meir was meshamesh the rosh yeshivah, giving him the opportunity to see up close how the manhig hador comported himself and handled delicate situations and providing invaluable insights for the young talmid that would play a crucial role in his future rabbinical positions.
Although Rav Moshe was his primary rebbi and manhig, Rav Moshe Meir had several other great influences in his life who have assisted in his development as a rav and eved Hashem.
“I began listening to Rav Avigdor Miller in the 1970s. I had a pillow speaker—a thin, flat speaker that could be slipped under a pillow and listened to when lying down—while in yeshivah, and when going to bed, I would listen to his tapes until I fell asleep,” he shares.
“From Rav Miller I absorbed the overriding importance of not missing out on the fact that the main thing in life is being aware of Hashem in everything we do, being mindful of everything we do, and being particularly mindful during davening. He taught me not to do things robotically, but with purpose, and that every action we take should be done with the goal of giving nachas ruach l’Yotzreinu.
“After Rav Moshe was niftar, I often turned to Rav Reuven and Rav Dovid Feinstein to help guide me as a rav. On questions of rabbinical procedure, I would most often turn to Rav Reuven, and on she’eilos concerning medical halachahand pikuach nefashos I would ask Rav Dovid. Of course, as the same or similar she’eilos arose repeatedly throughout the years, it became less necessary for me to reach out to them for hadrachah, as they had already taught me what I needed to know.
“Last but not least, I am very close with—and very much look up to—Rabbi Chaim Mintz, the founder of Oorah, and I remain in awe at what he has been able to accomplish with his organization as well as his indefatigable drive to bring estranged Yiddencloser to Yiddishkeit.”
Shortly after getting married, Rabbi Weiss began delivering the daf yomi shiur in Rabbi Pollack’s shul in Staten Island, beginning with the new daf cycle in 1983.
Several months after becoming a maggid shiur,he was appointed rav at Agudas Yisroel of Staten Island, where he remained for 38 years of harbatzas Torah to thousands of individuals and families. It was during this time, as well, that he became a world-renowned speaker, highly sought-after for his advice and clarity of thought.
In addition, Rabbi Weiss taught and guided thousands of girls in high schools and seminaries as well as hundreds of couples and individualsfrom all walks of life. Healso spends considerable time and energy visiting other shuls and communities and has been the scholar-in-residence at numerous events, hotel programs, and getaways.
“The Chafetz Chaim in the third volume of Kol Kisvei writes that rabbanim should go to different shuls and give chizuk to other rabbanim,” Rabbi Weiss explains. “I could say the same thing as the rav,but when a kehillah hears a message from an outside voice, it can have a much greater impact.”
Rabbi Weiss relates that there is a family from Memphis, Tennessee, that credits their being frum to a one-time visit from Rav Moshe Feinstein, who made such a lasting impression on them that they were chozer b’teshuvah.
“I am trying to continue that legacy,” Rabbi Weiss says.
“I was once flown out to Memphis to speak at the Baron Hirsch shul.I’m pretty sure I am the only person who looks and dresses like I do to have ever delivered a drashah there,” he says with a smile.
On one occasion, a woman came over to Rabbi Weiss after he delivered a shiur for women in Newtown, Massachusetts, while on a speaking circuit in the Boston area. She told Rabbi Weiss that 11 years prior, she was at a hotel for Pesach where he was the scholar-in-residence. Her marriage was in shambles, and she had already decided to divorce but felt that it would be best to wait until after Yom Tov to go through with it.
“While at the hotel, you gave a three-part series on shalom bayis, and it made me wonder, ‘Am I doing everything wrong?’” she told Rabbi Weiss. “I decided that instead of getting divorced, I would make changes. Eleven years of happy marriage and two children later, I finally have the chance to thank you.”
“Stories like these motivate me to travel, despite the hardships. I see the amazing impact it can have on people,” Rabbi Weiss says.
Moving to Lakewood
Several years ago, Rabbi Weiss and his family were struck by tragedy when his rebbetzin passed away. During the year of aveilus, Rabbi Weiss continued to serve as the rav in Staten Island but stopped teaching in girls’ high schools and seminaries.
Rabbi Weiss then married his second rebbetzin, Mrs. Shoshy Weiss LCSW-R, a therapist with over 20 years’ experience assisting people through a variety of difficulties who specializes in treating women struggling with anxiety, depression, and marital challenges.
Two years later, Rabbi Weissand his rebbetzin moved to Fairways in Lakewood so they could be near their children and grandchildren.
Now the rav of the rapidly growing Agudas Yisroel Bais Zeev located at 2 Valley Stream Lane in Fairways—the first-ever Agudas Yisroel shulin Lakewood—Rabbi Weiss is continuing to be marbitz Torah and bring others closer to their Creator.
He delivers a daf yomi shiur every evening at eight in the shul to numerous participants. The shiur is also broadcast across the country and around the world on zoomdaf.com, and listeners from Florida to Beit Shemesh to Croatia learn the daf with the group. Rabbi Weiss feels it is a wonderful way to connect Yiddenthroughout the world.
The shul also has a flourishing minyan, despite it still being in its infancy. Rabbi Weiss speaks for a few minutes every day between Minchah and Ma’ariv. On Shabbos, he speaks for a few minutes before Barchu on Friday night and delivers a drashah on Shabbos day before Mussaf and another one during shalosh seudos.
There are shiurim for women as well, and Rabbi Weiss looks forward to doing even more, including providing shiurim for couples on Friday nights. This is especially important given that Fairways is inhabited by older couples who are dealing with their own, new set of challenges, such as empty nests and figuring out how best to split their time between their various grandchildren, and Rabbi Weiss is looking forward to starting shiurim catering to them.
Lessons of Chanukah
With Chanukah approaching, I ask Rabbi Weissto share some insights into the Yom Tovand some lessons we can glean from it.
“First and foremost, we must understand the threat that the Yiddenfaced in the time of nes Chanukah and what we are celebrating when we light the menorah,” Rabbi Weiss says.
“The danger that the Yiddenfaced in the time of Chanukah was from the Yevanim, the Syrian Greeks. Yavan has the same letters as noy, which means “beauty.” It is this concept of beauty that is the single greatest threat to Yiddishkeit. For example, the intermarriage rate, which we call the ‘silent Holocaust,’ does not stem from an external, physical threat, but from the threat of beauty and gravitating toward things that might seem externally innocuous but are in reality very dangerous.
“This ‘beauty’ represents an unbelievable threat to Yiddishkeit. During the COVID lockdowns, when many were scared to mingle with others and were stuck indoors alone for a long time, many people succumbed to the allure of introducing the media into their lives. Everyone has access to technology now, and with that technology comes access to many things that people should not be getting caught up with. Those things that people got involved with are a death knell to a real Torah life. It’s hard to go to a shiur after a long day of work, and the decision people have to make between choosing to go to the shiur and sitting at home and ‘vegging out’ in front of a relaxing program presents a massive nisayon. That temptation, in a nutshell, is Yavan—it’s the noy seeping into our lives.”
Rabbi Weissthen poses a simple yet thought-provoking question.
“Isn’t it interesting that in today’s modern world, where we have halogen lights, LED lights, and all sorts of other bright lighting equipment, we still choose to light these small, outdated candles on Chanukah? Can’t we do better than that?” he asks.
“The answer is no. The small, flickering flame of the menorah is the point. Our ohr is an ancient, timeless one—the ohr of Torah—and our ohr is far greater than all the fancy lights of modern society. Some people think that they have to make these massive, light-filled decorations to celebrate Chanukah, but that’s missing the point; in fact, it’s the antithesis of the point. What truly matters, and what we are displaying with the menorah, is that Torah is paramount to all else.
“It says, ‘Kol haragil b’ner havai lo banim chachamim,’which loosely translates to ‘One who stays by the ner Chanukah will have children who are talmidei chachamim.’ That doesn’t simply mean that someone who buys nice oil and wicks and stares at them on Chanukah is guaranteed banim talmidei chachamim. It means that if you are cognizant of the message of the ner, if you recognize that the ohr of Chanukah, which is the ohr of Torah, is the most important thing in your home and you convey that message to your children, then you will be zocheh to have children who are talmidei chachamim.”
Rabbi Weiss offers another Chanukah lesson, one that we would be remiss not to ingrain in ourselves and our children: the importance of expressing warmth and spending quality time with family.
“The centrality of the Jewish home and the importance of family cannot be overstated,” hesays. “Rav Avraham Pam was once asked what the secret of chinuch is. He answered that it’s three things: varmkeit, varmkeit,and more varmkeit. There is nothing more crucial to the chinuch ofour children than showing them love and affection and ensuring that their home is happy and peaceful. ‘Family’ should be read as an acronym: ‘Father And Mother I Love You.’ The greatest Chanukah presents you can give your family and children is your presence.
“Chanukah is a wonderful time to give love and warmth to our families. We often don’t realize it, but we don’t spend nearly enough quality time with our children—we’re just too busy! We have so many things tugging at our attention that we sadly end up giving so little of it to our families. Chanukah is the perfect time to start fixing that and putting our priorities where they should be. Whether it’s at the lighting of the menorah, at Chanukah parties, or simply spending some time together, Chanukah is a wonderful time to refresh the bond with your family. Children and spouses need to feel the warmth, fuzziness, and closeness of their relationships. And the more we can make Chanukah a time for family bonding, the better off we will be.”
To have Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss speak at your shul or school, please call Rabbi Daniel Green at 908-783-7321.