By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is a sad day for the Torah world. Rav Meir Schuster, zt’l, passed away on Monday this week after a debilitating illness. This very great man was singlehandedly responsible for bringing more people closer to Avinu SheBaShamayim than entire outreach organizations. Without exaggeration, many tens of thousands of people came to Torah observance because of his actions.
The greatest insight into him was perhaps a she’eilah that was presented to Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, when Reb Meir had lost his father. According to the Torah, the period of mourning lasts for three days. Chazal extended this period to seven days. Rabbinic extensions of halachos are universally observed in Judaism. Chazal tell us (based on Koheles 10:8) regarding rabbinic enactments, “Kol haporetz geder yeshacheno nachash—anyone who breaks the fence (on a rabbinic law) deserves that a snake should bite him.” Yet here, things were different. Every day that Rabbi Meir Schuster was not at the Kotel, the Wailing Wall, was a day that Jewish people would not get a chance to be brought to Torah-true Judaism. Should he sit three days or seven days?
It was not even a question. Rav Elyashiv paskened that he may only sit for three days. Rav Elyashiv had never ruled in this manner for anyone else. Rav Meir Schuster was irreplaceable.
What did he do? He set people up for Shabbos. Somehow, every Jew has that pintile Yid within himself or herself to bring them back to the holiest place on this earth. Rabbi Schuster, a man whose heart burst with love for others, would speak to them. He approached them, lovingly, with earnestness and kindness. He was their first contact. He had lists and lists of people that worked with him. He advised and was an uncanny shadchan of people.
He brought them to the Heritage House. And soon after his contact, Jews from all walks of life who had just come to visit in Jerusalem now made the decision to stay the year. One year turned to two years. Children estranged from their Father were brought back to Him.
Now, many of these students, those who were touched by Reb Meir Schuster, are teachers of Torah in their own right. They are pillars of Jewish communities in Eretz Yisrael, throughout America, in Australia, London, New Zealand, and Holland. They, their children, and their grandchildren are talmidim in BMG in Lakewood.
How did he do it? Mostly it was the genuineness of his love, but he was very down-to-earth as well. When he was younger, he made bets on, of all things, who would win an arm-wrestle. “If I win, you stay in yeshiva for a year. If I lose, you can go back.” He was a small, wiry figure; the college buffs thought he didn’t stand a chance against them. They were wrong. Harrys became Chaims. Jakes became Yaakovs, and eventually Reb Yaakovs.
It was not just kiruv, however. If there were lone yeshiva bachurim with no place for a Shabbos or a yom tov meal, he would set them up too.
The world is now a different place without him. We are bereft without his loving embrace and warmth. His legacy is twofold. The first is the tens of thousands of Torah Yidden that he had created. The second? A shining example of what one man, one person, can do.
Every year, the families of those rescued by Oskar Schindler gather together to remember him. If the same were to be done by those who were touched by Reb Meir Schuster, the seats in Madison Square Garden and Citi Field would not be enough.
May he be a meilitz yosher for all of Klal Yisrael and may his memory inspire us all to do more to bring our fellow Jews back to our Father in heaven. v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.