A Malach in Our Midst: The Legacy of a Treasured Rebbi, Harav Mosheh Twersky, Hy”d, by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Reviewed by Deborah L. Gordon
Nissan is an auspicious time of year; the Jewish people were redeemed from Mitzrayim and became Hashem’s holy nation. It is therefore fitting to pay tribute to one of the brightest of our nation, Rav Mosheh Twersky, Hy”d, who was murdered in the Har Nof Massacre in November 2015.
In his preface to his biography of his beloved rebbi, Rabbi Yehoshua Berman explains one reason why we read (and write) biographies of gedolim; since klal yisrael is a one unified body, the great ones among us demonstrate the most magnificent parts of us. We read about them and “gaze upon the finest, most spiritually developed aspect of Klal Yisrael…It’s an uplifting experience that is borne of the joy and pleasure that one derives from perceiving oneself – within the context of being an inextricable part of the Klal – at one’s best.”
Of course when reading the biography of a gadol, we are saddened by the loss of such an individual, however even more painful is the way in which Rav Twersky’s life came to such an abrupt end. On the 25th of Cheshvan, 5775 (2015), as they davened shacharis, Rav Twersky, Rav Kalman Levine, R’ Avraham Goldberg, R’ Aryeh Kupinsky, and Rabbi Chaim Yechiel Rothman were murdered by gun- and hatchet-wielding Arab terrorists in the Kehillas Bnei Torah shul of Har Nof, Jerusalem.
Although his life ended in a horrific way, making a kiddush Hashem, even in death, was “the natural culmination… A totally straight, smooth continuum between a life of kiddush Hashem and a death of kiddush Hashem,” said Rav Mayer Twersky, Rav Mosheh Twersky’s brother.
What does a life of kiddush Hashem look like? From every page of the book Berman was able to transmit not only the actions of such a person, but the feelings, intentions, and multiple layers of wisdom that were part and parcel of Rav Twersky. This well-researched tribute to Rav Twersky is jam-packed with first-hand accounts, photos, and divrei Torah, and demonstrates a life of serving Hashem with the intellect and exactitude to halachah on the one hand, and the passion for avodas Hashem on the other. Being a descendent of the Brisker Rav on his mother’s side, and the dynasty of Chernobyl Chassidus on his father’s side, Rav Twersky synthesized these two, contrasting approaches to Torah.
Rav Twersky, however, always free of airs, felt his lineage was a “mandate to live up to.” One of his favorite expressions was, “What you want, you get.” Already from a young age, Mosheh Twersky wanted the deep connection and unity to Hashem of his great ancestors. As a child and young adult in Boston, Mosheh Twersky was his grandfather Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s main disciple, with whom he spent many, many hours learning. Although well-advanced and ambitious for his age, Mosheh was a “normal” child, playing ball with friends, well-liked, and humble, always humble.
The heart of the biography is found in the chapters, “Torah Study,” “Insatiable Talmid,” and “Nurturing the Next Generation.” These sections impart a full expression of who Rav Twersky was – a student and a teacher, mostly from the perspective of chevrusas and students, but also include his own beautiful divrei Torah. Reb Akiva Bergman, a closed talmid, remembers, “I will never forget one Purim – at the height of the festivities – how Rav Twersky literally screamed: “We need to learn Torah until it is absorbed into our blood!”
Rav Twersky learned constantly, in fact the book highlights how every moment was accounted for – and when he came home before doing anything else, even eating, he’d sit down and learn. In this day and age of segulos, Rav Twersky held that learning was the “greatest segulah.”
Although Rav Twersky had mastery in every area of Torah study, the development of his talmidim was no less important to him. “He didn’t teach Gemara, he taught talmidim.” He was always at yeshiva – even if it meant walking through a blizzard to get to Toras Moshe, where he was a beloved rebbi. He created an atmosphere which encouraged questions, desiring that his students achieve a full understanding of the sugya. And Rav Twersky also extended an open invitation for students to come to his home for the Friday night Shabbos seudah, a privilege that the bachurim were thrilled to have.
Some of the most touching vignettes about Rav Twersky highlighted his interactions with others – especially his precious talmidim. Rav Twersky’s devotion is encapsulated by the statement “he was like a father to them;” even concerned with what they were eating, for example, yet also their “gateway to ruchnius…Rebbi’s daily shiur was an hour of pure delight…Each moment of Rebbi’s time was like a diamond too precious to quantify (p.133).”
Even though Rav Twersky was always serious, many testify to the fact that he radiated simchah, and was had a positive and forward-moving outlook. He kept many chumros (stringencies) in halachah, ate little, and was extremely private about his avodos Hashem, yet he didn’t impose any of his stringencies on his family.
The biography of a man as great as Rav Twersky would be incomplete without the inclusion of his wife, Rebbetzin Bashy Twersky. Daughter of the gadol Rav Abba Berman, an alter Mirer, Rebbetzin Twersky was the Rav’s full partner, and she writes about their differing personalities, her admiration for him, the intense, spiritual quality he infused into the home, and his role as a devoted father.
After reading this biography, one walks away with many emotions, but what can be most felt is awe that we had such greatness in our generation, and the feeling of one wanting to be more, to do more, to take a little spark of the great light that was Rav Mosheh Twersky and incorporate it into one’s self.