THE LIFE OF R’ MOSHE SHUCHAT A”H
January 3, 2019
Beis Moshiach in #1148, Profile

He was born in Harlem in Manhattan 97 years ago, made aliya and lived in Eretz Yisroel for 14 years. Then he returned to the East Side of Manhattan. * Throughout all those years, the spark of Lubavitch that flickered within him was on a low flame, until his children began learning in Tomchei T’mimim, at which time it came to the fore in full force. * It was during the difficult years that Crown Heights went through that he lived on the southern border of the neighborhood and began regularly attending the Rebbe’s farbrengens. * For a period of time he prepared the mikva on Union Street for the Rebbe and immersed right after the Rebbe came out.

By Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Keller

3Tammuz 5714 at his wedding. | R’ Moshe Shuchat on 20 Tishrei 5707 on his way to Chevron Lefferts Avenue in Crown Heights was known for many years as the southern border of the neighborhood. At the end of the sixties, there was a demographic shift in the area and it became dangerous for Jews. Some of the streets near 770 still had a majority of Jews, thanks to Lubavitcher Chassidim who, under orders from the Rebbe, held on to their homes. But the further you went from 770, the fewer Jews there were. Lefferts was the last street on which a few Lubavitcher Chassidim lived, and it was with true mesirus nefesh that they remained.

In the last twenty years, with the expansion of the neighborhood beyond the familiar boundaries, Lefferts is bustling with Jewish life. In Beis Eliyahu Nachum on Lefferts, between Troy and Albany, there are six minyanim every day. Despite this blessed change, people remember the older Chassidim who stuck it out on this street even in the tough years, like R’ Eliyahu Nachum Sklar, R’ Shneur Zalman Gurary, R’ Moshe Levertov, and others. One of the last of these veteran Chassidim, who marked nearly fifty years living on this street, was R’ Moshe Shuchat a”h.

Those who knew him from the Beis Eliyahu Nachum shul, knew him as an old-world Jew filled with sincerity and a profound fear of Heaven. Behind his broken demeanor there lay hidden a life journey replete with suffering and upheavals, of a neshama with deep roots in the world of Chabad, which after years of wandering returned to its roots.

LUBAVITCHER ROOTS GOING BACK TO CHASSIDIM OF THE ALTER REBBE

R’ Moshe was born on 3 Cheshvan 5621 in Harlem. He attended a yeshiva in his neighborhood and then went to Rabbi Yaakov Yosef (RJJ) on the East Side.

R’ Moshe had great yichus on his mother’s side. Rivka Yalkut was a descendant of a famous family of rabbanim – Rosenthal and Rakovsky, who served as rabbis in Plotzk, Suvalk, Apt and other places, whose genealogy traced back to the Megale Amukos and to the Maharsha. His father, Zalman Tzvi Hirsh, was a descendant of Chabad Chassidim from way back.

His paternal grandfather was R’ Shmuel Tanchum Shuchat, a distinguished Chabad Chassid in Chevron. Actually, R’ Shmuel Tanchum’s family name was Etkin; the name Shuchat was the result of unusual circumstances. When he was engaged, the fear of being drafted into the Russian army was a very real threat hanging over the groom-to-be, and after hearing from his kalla that she was an only child, he came up with a creative solution in consultation with his future father-in-law, whose name was Shuchat, and was registered as his son. As an “only son,” he was exempt from the army. Thus, his name was changed on all official documents from Etkin to Shuchat.

Later in life, his second wife was Mrs. Ginsberg, a relative of the Chassid R’ Simcha Ginsberg, who was descended of Lubavitcher Chassidim for many generations going back to the Alter Rebbe. It was from this marriage that his son R’ Zalman Tzvi Hirsh was born. At this point, he lived in Mohilov and was a shadar for Kollel Chabad in Eretz Yisroel.

Later on, with the bracha of the Rebbe Rashab, R’ Shmuel Tanchum moved to Eretz Yisroel and settled in Chevron. He merited to serve as the personal emissary of the Rebbe Rashab in the purchase of the land in Chevron which is called, till today, Beit Romano. When Yeshivas Toras Emes was founded in 5672/1912, he became a devoted disciple of the mashpia, R’ Zalman Havlin, even though he was older than him.

R’ Shmuel Tanchum was a shliach tzibbur and a baal koreh for the Chabad Chassidim in Chevron. He was also a melamed for younger boys in the elementary division that was attached to the yeshiva. Rabbi Chaim Na’eh recounts a custom in the Torah reading that was heard from him, at the end of Ketzos HaShulchan: “It is a custom to read [the words ‘zecher Amalek’ in Parshas Zachor] two times, once with a segol and once with a tzeirei, as I wrote in the aforementioned Badei HaShulchan. I inquired about this from the elder R’ Shmuel Tanchum Shuchat a”h, who read the Torah for over sixty years and he also said that the custom is to read it two times. He told me that he once asked the gaon Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lublin z”l, author of Toras Chesed, about this who said, ‘Zecher, zeicher, the main thing is to properly erase.’”

During the Arab pogrom in 1929, R’ Shmuel Tanchum was saved when the Arab lady who owned the house stood outside holding an ax and said she’d kill any of the hooligans who dared to try to enter the house to kill a Jew. R’ Shmuel Tanchum then moved to Yerushalayim where he passed away in 1932.

MOVING TO THE UNITED STATES

R’ Zalman Tzvi Hirsh’s life was difficult in Eretz Yisroel. When his cousin on his wife’s side, who was a rav in the United States, sent letters with vivid descriptions of the comfortable life in America, he was swept up in visions of the American dream and immigrated to the United States. A short while later, R’ Moshe was born on 3 Cheshvan 5681.

Ten years later, when the Rebbe Rayatz arrived on a visit to the United States for the first time, R’ Zalman Tzvi’s Chassidic memories were ignited and he had yechidus. Upon entering, the secretary recognized him and said to the Rebbe Rayatz, “This is Shmuel Tanchum’s son.”

R’ Zalman Tzvi Hirsh stayed in New York for fifteen years until his two older sons began going off the derech. He decided that poverty in Eretz Yisroel with children who were G-d fearing was preferable to American plenty with “American” descendants in the negative sense.

R’ Zalman Tzvi packed his belongings and household and moved to Eretz Yisroel in 5695. He settled in the Shapira neighborhood in Tel Aviv and sent his young children to B’nei T’mimim that had opened in 5696 (they continued their studies in Yeshivas Achei T’mimim in Tel Aviv that opened in 5698).

R’ Moshe was already around fifteen and although he greatly desired to learn in Yeshivas Toras Emes in Yerushalayim, he could not bear the terrible poverty that his parents and siblings endured. He went to work in the Dubek tobacco factory that manufactured cigarettes, which was owned by R’ Moshe Gurary. He gave all the money he earned to his parents.

He who orchestrates all events returned R’ Moshe to the United States. In 5708, at the beginning of the War of Independence, R’ Moshe moved to New York City and settled on the East Side where he davened in the Tzemach Tzedek shul. On 3 Tammuz 5714 he married Bracha Lifsha (born in the U.S. on 22 Av 5691), daughter of R’ Menachem Gedalia (known as Mendel, born in Galicia in 5663, a Bobover Chassid) and his wife Ida Pinsker, and settled in East New York. The officiating rabbi at their wedding was Rabbi Nissan Telushkin, a distinguished Chabad rabbi.

R’ Moshe supported himself from the labor of his hands and even when he was very tight for money, he refused to accept charity. He was straight as a ruler and would often repeat the saying of Rabbi Shimon Menashe Chaikin, rav of the Lubavitcher Chassidim in Chevron for over fifty years, who would go around to the stores in Chevron to ensure that the scales were accurate. He once entered a store where there was a Jew with a white beard and a large pair of tzitzis, the Alter Rebbe’s shiur, and found faulty scales and said, “Take off from the tzitzis and add that to the scales.”

Although he did not learn in yeshiva in his youth, he had an ingrained fear of heaven. He would say a lot of T’hillim constantly and would often finish the book of T’hillim a few times a day.

HOW DID THE REBBE REACT WHEN R’ MOSHE ASKED FORGIVENESS?

His pleasing delivery in his supplications to the Creator developed a reputation and he was asked to daven as the chazan on the Yomim Nora’im in big shuls in New York. Over the years, he was chazan in yeshiva Torah M’Tziyon; Agudas Achim Anshei Lubavitch in East New York; Congregation Zichron Toras Moshe on Vermont Street in East New York; Anshei Sfard in Canarsie; Young Israel of Prospect Park, and from 5739 and on he davened at the Beis Midrash HaGadol in Manhattan.

He was occasionally asked to be chazan in the Rebbe’s minyan and whoever was present at the time remembers the slow and sweet cadence with which he sang the words of the tefilla. This annoyed one of Anash who thought he was wasting the Rebbe’s time. The man stood near the chazan’s lectern and urged R’ Moshe to speed things up so as not to delay the Rebbe.

R’ Moshe, who was G-d fearing and amazingly sincere, took the first opportunity he had in yechidus to ask the Rebbe’s pardon because his lengthy t’fillos had delayed the Rebbe and robbed him of valuable time.

The Rebbe looked at him in astonishment and said, “On the contrary! Not only does it not bother me, I enjoy your saying each word and if only others would daven like you daven.”

ON THE BORDER OF CROWN HEIGHTS

At the end of 5729, he moved to Lefferts Avenue in Crown Heights. This was in the middle of “white flight,” when Jews were moving out of the neighborhood in droves. A Jew moving into Crown Heights was rare indeed.

Although he himself did not have a chance to learn in yeshiva, because he had gone to work to support his family, he tried mightily to learn in his spare time. He was one of the regulars at R’ Zalman Gurary’s Gemara shiur in the Adas Yisroel shul (which was later renamed Beis Eliyahu Nachum upon the passing of R’ Eliyahu Nachum Sklar). On Motzaei Shabbos he would listen to Rabbi Mordechai Pinchas Teitz’s radio shiurim in Gemara and to the shiurim of Rabbi Yosef Wineberg on Tanya and the Rebbe’s sichos. All his relatives, children and grandchildren knew that if they wanted to make a bar mitzva or sheva brachos on Motzaei Shabbos and wanted R’ Moshe to attend, they had to call it for before or after the shiurim.

YOUR SON IS TURNING OVER THE WORLD!

In the winter of 5742, his wife began working at the mikva on Union Street. She prepared it each time the Rebbe went to immerse.

After a short time, she became very weak and could not do the work herself. R’ Moshe then prepared the mikva each time for the Rebbe. Then he would wait with his wife for when the Rebbe came out and received the Rebbe’s bracha and a five – or ten-dollar bill. Afterward, he would immerse himself.

R’ Moshe was quiet by nature, all the more so when it concerned the Rebbe. One time though, he told his son what the Rebbe told him:

In those days, his son, R’ Avrohom Leib (although still a bachur) was a rosh yeshiva in Morocco. In his letters to the Rebbe he would write about the positive activities of the bachurim. Even when the bachurim did not act 100% properly, he tried to give the Rebbe good news. R’ Binyamin Gorodetzky, on the other hand, would not sugarcoat his reports and would also write what needed improvement.

One time, in 5742, R’ Gorodetzky wrote a report about the yeshiva and mentioned that the situation had greatly improved. He also spoke highly of the work of the rosh yeshiva, R’ Avrohom Leib Shuchat.

On 3 Tammuz, his anniversary, when he met the Rebbe on his way out of the mikva, R’ Moshe wanted the Rebbe’s bracha. The Rebbe told him to write his request and submit it to the office. R’ Moshe did so.

The next time the Rebbe left the mikva, he said to R’ Moshe in Yiddish, “You don’t mention anything about your son in Morocco? He’s turning over a world!”

THE REBBE’S BRACHA FOR LONG LIFE

Ever since his wife became sick, R’ Moshe would stand up at every farbrengen to ask the Rebbe for a bracha. He believed wholeheartedly that every Shabbos when the Rebbe gave his blessing that this is what sustained his wife for the next week. She was sick from 5744 until 5749 and in the latter years was what is colloquially referred to as a “vegetable.”

In 5748, her condition deteriorated and at the farbrengen on Yud-Tes Kislev, R’ Moshe asked the Rebbe for a bracha. The Rebbe asked, “Why is he coming over here; it’s not the right time.”

R’ Moshe mistakenly understood from this that the situation was hopeless and there was nothing to do. Consequently, the next Shabbos he was very down and did not ask the Rebbe for a bracha. The Rebbe then said to R’ Berel Weiss, who sat behind him, “Where is Moshe Shuchat?”

R’ Berel Weiss went to R’ Moshe and said, “Who is Mister Shuchat?” When R’ Moshe said that this was his name, R’ Berel told him that the Rebbe asked for him. R’ Moshe then went over to the Rebbe and asked for a bracha (and continued to ask the Rebbe for a bracha for his wife at every farbrengen).

At the Simchas Torah farbrengen of 5749, R’ Moshe stood up in order to approach the Rebbe and say l’chaim to him. The Rebbe motioned to him to sit. Then Rashag stood up to say l’chaim and the Rebbe called to R’ Moshe and asked him, “Why did you not come over before?” R’ Moshe answered (copying the motion), “You made like this.” To which the Rebbe responded, “You did not need to look; you and your wife should live long days and good years.”

His wife continued to live for nearly a year and passed away on 17 Elul 5749. R’ Moshe himself was 97 when he passed away, almost thirty years later, on Motzaei Shavuos 5778.

We will conclude this article with an interesting thing the Rebbe said on 2 Cheshvan 5751, when R’ Moshe went for dollars and said, “Tomorrow is my birthday and I will be 70.” The Rebbe said, “‘The days of our years because of them are seventy years, and if our strength endures, eighty years;’ until a hundred years.”



Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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