Living Legacy: Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin, zt”l
7 Cheshvan marks the 88th
yohrtzeit of the Lubliner Rov—a tzaddik, a ga’on, a
brilliant visionary who literally transformed the world through his
initiatives, Rav Meir Shapiro’s living legacy continues to grow stronger and
burn brighter with every passing day.
Rav Yehuda Meir was born in 5647 (1887), in a small Romanian town which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The family were ardent Chortkover Chassidim, and Rav Meir would remain tethered to Chortkov for all his life. His father was Rav Yaakov Shamshon Shapiro, a direct descendant of Rebbe Pinchos of Koritz, zy”a. his mother was a daughter of Rav Shmuel Yitzchok Shur, author of Minchas Shai, and Rav Meir learned from his grandfather in his childhood. He soon became known as an iluy, and soon after his marriage he accepted a rabbinic position, in which he taught Torah... but his concern for Klal Yisroel and its future was always foremost in his mind, and he became active in public life.
In the 1920’s he was elected as Agudas Yisroel’s representative to the Polish Sejm.
From his earliest age, Rav Meir was concerned for the plight of yeshiva bachurim, in whom he saw the future if Klal Yisroel. He was disturbed by the way they were treated by society, needing to shlep from home to home to eat tegg... or otherwise sit in shtibelach throughout Poland. He envisioned a state-of-the art campus where the bachurim of Poland would be nurtured into great leaders in an environment that provided their needs, full room and board, an enormous library where they could satiate themselves in their research of all areas of Torah. It would be a prestigious institution, with a rigorous acceptance process, and it would attract the finest of Poland’s Torah families.
He fulfilled this vision, and so much more, with the founding of Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, an institution that changed the face of Klal Yisroel, despite the Holocaust.
He was once asked why he did not make Aliyah to Eretz Yisroel, to which he replied, “I have the strength to go up to Eretz Yisroel, but where will I take the strength to leave?” By the time of his petirah in 1933, Hitler, ym”sh, had come to power, and the winds of war were already blowing fiercely, and people’s eyes were opening to the calamity that was approaching. Rav Meir told his talmidim: “If I could, I would take the entire yeshiva building, brick by brick, to the holy land, and transplant Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin there.” Sadly, the yeshiva and most of its talmidim would be consumed in the Great Fire that took the glory of Polish Jewry during the Holocaust, Hy”d.
Then there was his introduction of the Daf Yomi initiative, the impact of which is simply immeasurable; the millions of hours of Torah learning that it has generated, and will continue to generate, is incalculable.
Rav Meir was an exceptional ba’al menagen, and he would teach the niggunim to his talmidim, and they have brought it out to the light of the world. His numerous compositions are among the most popular niggunim today, even if their composer is not known.
On 7 Cheshvan of 1933, Rav Meir was niftar after a very short illness, and his passing was a great shock to all of Polish Jewry, especially his talmidim. The moments of his passing were otherworldly; his parting words to the talmidim dancing with great deveikus around his bedside were “nohr mit Simcha, only with joy.”
This was a parting mission to his many talmidim, exceptionally brilliant and accomplished Torah leaders who were a great part of the renaissance of Torah Jewry after the Holocaust.
Talmidim like Rav Wosner and Rav Pinchos Hirschprung and the Tchebiner Rosh Yeshiva, and so many others, rebuilt from the Holocaust with tenacity, with Torah brilliance, and with great joy—a lasting, growing testament to their great Rebbe’s living legacy.