Memory Lane: Rav Eliyahu Moshe Shisgal, zt”l
By: Yehuda Alter
One of Boro Park’s greatest Ramim of all time was Rav Moshe Shisgal who molded and shaped talmidim in Yeshiva Be’er Shmuel—talmidim who continue to carry his memory in their hearts to this day.
Rav Moshe was born in Slutsk in the year 1921 to his father Rav Avraham Yitzchok Shisgal—a talmid of the greatest Gedolim in Europe. After his marriage, Rav Avraham Yitzchok served as a Rav in his native town of Rostov-on-Don—until 1923, and then moved to America. His young son Moshe would develop into a Gadol, right here in America.
Rav Shisgal was the beloved son in law of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.
In Torah Vodaas, Rav Moshe became bound with his rebbi muvhak, Rav Shlomo Heiman, zt”l. Rav Yitzchok Sheiner, shlit”a, Rosh Yeshiva of Kaminetz-Yerushalayim, spoke with this writer about their years learning under Rav Shomo. “He was the cream of Torah Vodaath.” He was immersed in leaning with every fiber of his being; he was completely into it—his whole head.”
“At the same time,” continued Rav Sheiner,” there was his Ahavas chessed. [He] exhibited a great sever panim, a friendly demeanor to each and every individual. Everything that you would ask him, he would answer you with such patience and understanding.”
Rav Yekusiel Bittersfeld, shlit”a—a longtime maggid shiur at Be’er Shmuel— would write at the time of his passing: “he grew up in America during a time of tremendous nisyonos, in ruchaniyus and gashmiyus—when the only drive of young men was to ‘make a living’—but he managed to elevate himself, and everything around him, far above it all.
“He never davened with us in Beer Shmuel… because the one time that he did, we all waited forty minutes for him to finish shemoneh esrei… and when he was finished, he was soaked through from exertion,” related Rav Yeruchom Olshin. His entire face glowed with ahavas Hashem and ahavas habriyos.
All of his talmidim recall his tremendous hasmadah. His nose was always in that small gemara that went with him everywhere, and he could be seen standing at the bus stop on the way home, straining to read the small letters under the street lamp.
As noted, his love for his fellow human being was overflowing. His talmidim—today rabbonim—still recall making them feel ‘like a Gadol’ when asking even a simple kushya. Rav Peretz Steinberg recalls that he once learned a few blatt ahead of the class, and when he approached Rav Moshe to ask a kushya, he said that when they would reach that place in the Gemara he will come back to it. “I didn’t dream that he would remember this—but a few weeks later, when we reached it, he stopped the shiur, and said; ‘Steinberg hut gefregt a kashya.’
His sensitivity was to everyone—and he would regularly empty his pockets, giving away his last penny to the needy. He would regularly visit, and host in his home, so many broken-hearted individuals.
Rav Moshe left this world at the age of 50, but to the hundreds of his students in our community who consider themselves his talmidim to this very day, the name Rav Moshe Shisgal, zt”l, evokes a unique portrait of gadlus that changed their lives forever—futures that he shaped for a decade in Boro Park of yesteryear.