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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Remembering Rav Moshe Aharon Stern©

By Mrs. Rochel Solomon Gross as told to Vardah Littmann

Rav Moshe Aharon Stern (1926-1998) was a grandson of the famed tzaddik, Reb Yaakov Yosef Herman, the subject of the book All for the Boss. In his youth, Rav Moshe Aharon studied at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. At age 18, he traveled to Eretz Yisrael and enrolled in the Kamenitz Yeshiva, where he remained and served as Mashgiach for the last 20 years of his life. His yahrzeit is this coming week on the 7th of Adar.

 I am not a lecturer or speaker. I am just Rav Moshe Aharon Stern's younger sister, 12 years his junior, who loved him very much. I will just talk and tell stories about him, explaining who he was.

My father died thirty nine years before Rav Moshe Aharon, zatzal, was niftar. After my father passed away, Rav Moshe Aharon was my father and mentor in every way. He helped me though both the good times and the hard times as well.

If I am already speaking about him it has to be with a purpose. In Mesechet Brochos, it states that when one relates memories of a departed one, it should be to draw out from the person that was niftar, his good deeds, his middos, and the chinuch he gave us. We are supposed to copy those good things, and in that way we elevate him. This enables him to rise to heights and become a malitz yashor for us in this world. By emulating him, we raise him high in Heaven, and we strengthen our own ties with him. We grow and become part of him so that he can come down from Shamayim and act as an advocate for us.

"As Long as I Live"

When he was seven years old, he was very ill with a rheumatic heart. He then developed tuberculosis, which is highly contagious. 80 years ago there were no antibiotics or steroids to combat the illness. There was nothing to save him. The doctors gave him four months to live. They put him in a sanatorium that was three hours traveling distance away. The place was completely treife.

My mother would travel one day and my father would travel the next. This way there was someone near the child all week except for Friday and Shabbos. They would bring him food. 

My mother would get up every morning and wash negel vasser. She would then stand by the window crying and saying, "Ribono Shel Olam, if you give my son life, I will be magkdish him to Torah and kedusha as long as l live.” I was born twelve years after Rav Moshe Aharon and I always heard from my mother, “I was magkdish Moshe Aharon to Torah and kedusha as long as I live."

"As long as I Iive." How much care must one take with what one says, even for good things. My mother’s shloshim ended Thursday, and Rav Moshe Aharon was called to the upper Beis Din the next day, Friday. They must have said in Heaven, "Sixty-five years ago we relented and gave him back to his mother for “as long as she Iives.” Her shloshim - the end of a person's life - has passed, now Rav Moshe Aharon must return."

It was so sudden. He was perfectly healthy. Ten years earlier, he had had a slight heart-attack, but at the time of his passing, he was functioning fully and running a full schedule from six thirty in the morning until twelve at night. And sometimes when he returned home, he would find people waiting for him. He would sit with them, at times, till two in the morning.   
The Dream

When Rav Moshe Aharon was eighteen and a half years old and learning by his Rosh Yeshivah Rav Shraga Fivel Mendlovitch, where he was the top student, my mother had a dream. If you ever read All for the Boss, you know already how big my family is on dreams. And they do come true!

Well, my mother had a dream. She dreamed that Rav Moshe Aharon was marching up front in a parade. In one arm he held a sefer Torah and in the other hand he held an American flag. The sefer Torah kept getting lower and lower, as the American flag was going up higher.

Since there were no telephones to my grandfather Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman, in Eretz Yisrael, my mother sent him a telegram. "Papa, what should I do”?

Four hours later Papa sent back a wire instructing that Rav Moshe Aharon be sent to Eretz Yisrael immediately. Now this was 69 years ago; you could not just call up a travel agent, book a flight, and go. It took two weeks until you got a vaccination, and then another two weeks until you got a passport.

To top it all, you needed a visa to enter the then English-ruled Palestine. Only 40 of these where given to America a year. Thirty-four went to Shomer Hatzayir, two to Mizrachi, two to Young Israel and two to Agudah. As we belonged to the Agudah stream, my mother went with all due haste to their offices. She was told that this was after the war and the visa was needed for askanim, or a rich man that could contribute to the lands economy, or even a whole family.

Yes, they realized the importance of sending him. Yes, they knew our family well. But others had precedence and there no chance that they would send an eighteen and a half years old boy. She was being unrealistic, expecting them to give the visa to Moshe Aharon. 

My mother sent a second cable:" He is not coming - there is no visa." Four hours later, Papa sent back a wire instructing Moshe Aharon to get packed as he would soon be on the boat. So all the needed preparations of shots, passport, and hectic shopping were made. They booked a place on the ship, bought tickets, and he was all ready to go.

The boat was leaving Friday night. Thursday morning a sheepish person called up from the Agudah office inquiring if Moshe Aharon was ready to sail because the askan had gotten sick.

The Eventful Boat Ride 

So Moshe Aharon was on that boat. It was a two week trip which first took them to Portugal, then to Greece and Lebanon, and from there to Egypt and lastly to Haifa. In Lebanon, a group of Arabs got on. One Friday night as they neared Egypt, the captain, Mr. Tom Jones, heard singing. He ran out on deck to see what it was about.

A macabre sight met his eyes. The twelve Arabs were dancing with swords. He went over to the passengers and asked the meaning of this weird affair. He was told that this was standard practice by Arabs, in preparation for a massacre.

"Really?  Oooh, no siree, not on my ship." He stopped the boat and informed everyone they were going only as far as Egypt. He put the Arabs in their holds under guard. When they reached Egypt, the Captain told everyone to get off the boat.

As it was Layl Shabbos, seven people, Moshe Aharon among them, came and told the Captain that their Shabbos prohibited them to leave the ship. Tom Jones allowed them to stay, but he warned them that they were in Egypt and the place was full of thieves. Their luggage was going to be thrown on the pier and would definitely disappear.

Moshe Aharon went into his cabin and prayed,"Ribono Shel Olam, I don’t care about the new blankets and quilts they bought me and not about my new clothing. But all the money I ever saved went to buy seforim. All my seforim are going to go, Ribono Shel Olam."

But then he said to himself: Not to mechalel Shabbos is more important then books, I'll get new seforim. The seven Shabbos “keepers” davened and sang
zemiros at their meal.

In the morning the first thing the eighteen and a half years old boy did was run on deck. Maybe, maybe something remained. But there was not a speck of luggage in sight. Moshe Aharon said to himself "Gam zu Le'tovah (all is for the best).” 

After the sighting of three stars and Havdalah, they went to thank the Captain and bid him farewell. He told them to follow him. Mr. Smith led them to the guarded storeroom. He had put their entire luggage here. He said that he had been so impressed with their self sacrifice for their Sabbath day that he had protected their property. In fact it should be noted that those who had left the ship and profaned Sabbos had been robbed of all their belongings.

Tripple A's.

When Rav Moshe Aharon gave lessons to grooms, he taught them the Triple A's: Appreciation, Affections, and Attention. He said if you give these to your wife, you will have a wonderful marriage.

How do you show appreciation? Every Friday go out and buy a flower, one rose, or the nuts she likes, or maybe chocolate. Not all three, just one. One young man jumped up and said, "As avrechim how will we have money for this?”  Rav Moshe Aharon answered, "This is an investment in the future." 

Later on in life, his students would see him with a large bunch of flowers on Fridays. Fifty- one years, I can vouch for it; they never had a word between the two of them. If they had anything to say, they would sit down after the kids were in bed. He would say his side and she would say her side, and they would reach an agreement.

Some mornings, Rav Moshe Aharon would pray in Sha'arei Chessed. He noticed a chashuvah neighbor's tefillin straps were not fully painted and therefore not kosher. To tell the man even privately, might hurt him. So after davening, Rav Moshe Aharon went up to this man and asked to borrow his tefillin, claiming that his (Rav Moshe Aharon's) straps were posul.

Since the man had been praying in the front of the shul, he had not seen that Rav Moshe Aharon had already finished davening Shacharis at the back. He gave Rav Moshe Aharon the tefillin on condition that Rav Stern not climb up the two and a half of flights of steep steps to the man's apartment to return them. They agreed the man himself would fetch them from Rav Moshe Aharon's home.

Rav Moshe Aharon went to the tefillin manufacturer. Here he was told that it was impossible to get the straps changed by that same afternoon as they had many orders to fill. After Rav Moshe Aharon insisted he needed them urgently, the man agreed to have them ready by four, if Rav Stern would pay two and a half times the regular price for changing straps. Rav Moshe Aharon agreed and gave a check up front.

The owner of the tefillin came to pick them up. Mrs. Stern told him that Rav Moshe Aharon would only be home at nine. The man forgot to pick them up. But when he went to lay tefillin the next morning, he found them in their usual place in his home. Rav Moshe Aharon had climbed up the two and a half of flights of steep steps to the man's apartment and returned them while he was at his daily shuir.

The man unzipped the tefillin bag and on taking them out he saw the new straps. He later asked Rav Moshe Aharon why he had not told him that there was a problem with rezuot and insisted he was paying the cost of changing them. Rav Moshe Aharon took the money and explained he had not wanted to hurt him.

This same Jew came and told the sons of Rav Moshe Aharon the story as they sat shiva for their father. Only then did he learn that two and a half times the regular price for changing straps had been paid to change his. He wanted to pay the difference. But my nephews refused, saying this was one of the receipts their father had taken with him. 

His Taxi Mate

There was a young boy who every morning rode with Rav Moshe Aharon in the taxi to Kamenitz Yeshiva. One time, after two and a half years that they traveled together, the boy had high fever. That morning, Rav Moshe Aharon saw that the sixteen year old was not waiting at his regular spot for the taxi, and he ran up two flights to the boy’s home.

The boy’s mother nearly fainted and explained that she had thought that Rav Moshe Aharon would not wait for her son. Said Rav Moshe Aharon: "Two years he’s my mate in the taxi, of course I will wait for him. With a wave of a hand, you don’t dismiss two years."

The Admor MiKamenitz

The levaya was Friday and my sister stayed with me that Shabbos. On Motzeai Shabbos we called a taxi and gave the driver the address. He asked us "Are you going to the Admor MiKamenitz?” This was a new one. I had never heard my brother Moshe Aharon be referred to as an Admor before.

The taxi driver asked "What are you to him?"

"We are his sisters" 

And then he noticed the tear in our dresses and called out loudly: "'The crown of our head has fallen. What will I do now? What will I do now? For six years he used to ride with me to Kamenitz every morning at six- thirty. During the twelve minute ride I would put a kipah on my head and he would teach me Torah. Twelve minutes every day for six years. What will I do now? I guess I better start putting on a kipah and start doing the things he taught me."

Now what I am about to relate to you will seem impossible, but this is exactly what happened. As the taxi was half way up Kvish 4, it stalled and came to a dead stop. The driver got out and examined the engine. He said a wire had burned.

Now what were we going to do? It’s out of the question to stop a different taxi on the busy highway of Kvish 4, and where in the world would the man find a piece of wire to fix his car?

For some reason the driver looked over to the shoulder of the road and saw. .. the exact wire he needed. In a short time the car was repaired, and off we went. We all knew it was Rav Moshe Aharon’s zechus  that had gotten us moving again. The Admor MiKamenitz?

Whenever I attended a shuir given by my brother, he would say to me afterwards that I should take on just one thing from all the things he had said. My brother emphasized that it just doesn’t work to accept upon oneself too many things at once. It is best to add one thing on at a time, slowly and steadily adding to the “Roster” of mitzvahs and growing in avodas HaShem.

If any of you had the opportunity of participating in any of Rav Moshe Aharon’s classes, whenever you do something he advocated, please do it leilui nishmaso, thereby elevating both his soul and yourselves. May we be privileged to do so until the coming of Mashiach, b’mehaira be yamainu.      


  1. Please tell us the exact spot where the tzaddik is buried (גוש וחלקה ושורה). We were zocheh to name one of our children after him and now urgently want to visit his kever.

  2. Rav Moshe Aron Stern's zt'l, sister(Mrs. Rochel Solomon Gross) lives in Matterdorf and His son is Rov of Ezrat Torah in Jerusalem . Maybe you should phone and ask them.
    All the best
    Mrs. Littmann