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Yiddishkeit's Renaissance Man - Rav Meir Shapiro

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Yiddishkeit's Renaissance Man - Rav Meir Shapiro
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Rav Meir Shapiro was a legend his entire life, from his early beginnings until the day he was sadly taken from the world only 47 years later. Rav Meir Shapiro was talented in every way. Born in Shotz, Romania in 1887, Rav Meir was a child prodigy. Exceeding the knowledge of all the Rebbeim in town, after his Bar Mitzva he went to learn with his grandfather, Rav Shmuel Yitzchok Schorr, the author of Minchas Shai on Tanach. Three years later, from his deathbed his grandfather told him that in any event he would not continue to learn with Rav Meir because he already surpassed his grandfather in learning.

The poseik of the generation, the Maharsham of Barzen was so impressed by Rav Meir during a visit through his town, that he wrote in a letter that he made a bracha on seeing this young talmid chochom. At age 17 on Lag BaOmer, Rav Meir gave an impromtu drasha tying together the sayings of Rav Shimon bar Yochai throughout Shas, at the behest of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe.

After his marriage Rav Meir sat and learned but his fame grew far and wide. Although only 19 years old, offers for Rabbinic positions started coming his way. He steadfastly refused until at the urging of his Rebbe, Rav Yisroel Friedman of Chortkov, at the tender age of 23, he finally relented and accepted the position of Rav of Galina, a town near Lemberg. Rav Meir was a lifelong Chosid of the Chortkover Rebbe, always humbling himself before him, to his dying day. It was said that Rav Meir's awe for his Rebbe was the true model of Chassidus.

Rav Meir was fiery leader with a brilliant mind, clear vision, and a golden tongue that helped him along. In every position he took up, he reorganized and turned ailing towns and cities into a thriving community and a Makom Torah. His main priority always was staring yeshivos and organizing Chadarim for the children to learn. This was feat he accomplished in revitalizing Galina, Sanok, Pietrikov, and finally Lublin. Along the way he spent time in the Polish Parliament and was a chief spokesman for the newly formed Agudas Yisroel.

The two achievements that will forever be tied to his name are the Daf Yomi and Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. In 1923, at the second Knessia Gedola, Rav Meir introduced his idea of the Daf Yomi. Just imagine, he said, a Yid spends 2 weeks up on boat keeping up with Daf Yomi and after arriving in New York he can immediately join a group a Yidden holding in the same place he is! What was amazing was the quick start that it got off to. In Radin, when asked by the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Meir told him that over 150,000 people were learning Daf Yomi. The Chofetz Chaim expressed his jealousy.

The Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin was Rav Meir's final jewel in his crown and took up every moment of his time for the last 12 or so years of his life. He dreamed of building a modern Yeshiva in Galicia for boy to sit and learn as kings. No more begging for a piece of bread or a bed to sleep in. All their needs would be provided under one roof and they would devote all their energies to Torah. On Lag Ba'Omer 1923 all of Galician Jewry had their eyes turned to the city of Lublin, where the cornerstone laying celebration took place for Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. Tzaddikim and baalei batim swarmed upon the city to witness this historic event. The Chortkover Rebbe had the honor of laying the first stone.

Once the celebration was over there was much work to do. For the next 7 years Rav Meir Shapiro did not rest as he worked on fulfilling his dream and the dream of Klal Yisroel. At times he almost gave up on raising the enormous funds needed. In 1930, after long and exhausting fund raising trips through Europe and then to America, after 800 drashos, 600 committees formed, and 35,000 tzedoka boxes distributed, Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin became a reality. The Chanukas HaBayis was a spectacle of Kavod HaTorah for the ages.

The Yeshiva itself had a high standard with entrance requirement of knowing 200 Daf by heart. Rav Meir tended to his boys with the utmost devotion. Recent luminaries who learned there include Rav Pinchos Hirshprung and Rav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l as well as ybc"l Rav Shmuel Vosner.

In 1933 a simple case of the flu grew worse and worse. On 7 Cheshvan with his talmidim dancing and singing "Bicha Batchu Avoseinu", in You our fathers had faith, around his bed, weak and unable to talk, Rav Meir scrawled on a paper "Rak B'Simcha", only with joy, and then returned his holy and accomplished neshama to his father in Shamayim. Yehi Zichro Boruch.

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