Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neria zts"l
Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neria zts"lצילום: מרכז ישיבות בנ"ע

This year's annual Rambam Conference, planned for the week of his yahrzeit and held at the shores of Lake Kinneret in Tiberias, the city in which he is buried, was, as always, enlightening and informative. Under the auspices of the Orot Yisrael Teachers College and the Rambam Center, it was attended by hundreds of Religious Zionist Torah scholars, academics, educators and laymen eager to gain new perspectives on the "The Great Eagle"s monumental works.

But no one, not even the organizers, knew that at the close of the Shabbat, just before the Maariv prayer, a revelation was to occur .To an audience whose ears were riveted to each word she read, Mrs.Tzila Bar Eli, daughter of Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neria zts"l, and author of the authoritative biography of her saintly father who has also published his letters, stepped up to the podium and revealed for the first time a poignant and evocative description by Rabbi Neria of the Rambam's place in his life.

Arutz Sheva received permission from Mrs. Bar Eli to translate her father's words and post them here, although they are not yet freed for publication in the original Hebrew. They appear below:

"There were many, many sifrei kodesh (holy books on the Torah) in my father's library, but the four volumes of the Rambam were unique, they had their own status, they were different from the others –especially large with elegant and decorative bindings, with wide leather strips across the spine of each and on the second strip from the top silver letters that spelled out RaMBaM.

"They had a magnetic charm of their own and I was always happy when Abba asked me to bring him one of them. I would place it lovingly on my head and approach Abba in that fashion. These volumes were the ones most often on his desk – sometimes one, sometimes two, as if they were the gateway to his other books. While he studied them, he would place many more giant tomes on his desk, wrinkle his brow, turn their pages back and forth, go back to the Rambam, write something in his notebooks, and then put them all back on the shelves in their proper places.

"As the years passed, the Rambam's writings gradually became comprehensible to me as well, and then I became aware of his constant companion - and unyielding opponent - the Raavad! I must confess that I felt great antipathy towards the Raavad. I imagined him an old man with a hoarse voice, always angry, who for some reason had it in for the Rambam and had nothing to do besides looking for things to criticize and make a noise about. What did the Rambam ever do to him? I could not understand it. "Avraham said (א"א)…" he would write and that was that. "Not clear, not well presented." And try to stop him. I was angry at the Raavad for years until the history books enlightened me on the Raavad's true objective. He so much feared that Talmud study would be lost that he felt forced to cast doubt on the Rambam's words in certain well known places and announce it loudly: Let the Hebrews heed!

"Even so, I was not entirely mollified until I saw the foreword to the book "Sefer Hazakut" and realized that it exemplified true humility. That is when I understood that the Raavad found it as difficult to criticize forcefully as I found it difficult to read what he wrote, and that ended my antipathy because what is done out of necessity cannot be condemned.

"Once again, years pass. By now I am at a yeshiva. Entire sugyot open before me and sometimes the Rosh Yeshiva interprets them so as to embrace the Rambam's method. When you come home for a break after the summer you approach the Rambam as if he is an old and venerable friend, peruse his writings and those of his commentators, his nos'ei kelim, and sense you are becoming more and more connected to him. The tiny tear in the back of the fourth volume widens due to the number of times it is used and you are unable to preserve it sufficiently well. Your thoughts are permanently inside the book and you have no time for minor issues such as bindings.

"I suffer many hardships. Soviet Russia cannot bear young people whose interests lie in the Talmud, those who have warm feelings for the Rambam, those who gain pleasure from understanding that kind of thing. Only one ray of hope shines from afar – the hope for salvation and liberty – the Land of Israel. And it suddenly comes to pass. I have a visa in my pocket from the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva and a passport from the GPO offices. Tomorrow I am to travel to Odessa.

"I rise early before dawn so that no one knows I have left the city. So that no one hears the sounds of Mama's weeping as her son sails off in the distance. The library is shrouded in shadow. I enter it to take leave of the dear books, my mentors and friends since childhood. Humble, as is their way, the four volumes of Rambam stand with the morning clouds hovering over them. I approach and kiss them, and a flood of tears bursts from my eyes.. who knows when we will meet again, are we perhaps parting forever at this moment in time?

"Many days have gone by since then. Many things have become clear to me during my life, and a larger number have become more weighty. I suffered many hardships before reaching Eretz Yisrael and whenever I remembered my father's study and the melody with which he learned Talmud at night, depression would overwhelm me. Sometimes I would hear him saying: "Moshe Tzvi, bring me the fourth volume of the Rambam!" And these words had a long lost echo akin to the memories of the generation that went through the desert and forty years later still could hear the voice of G-d speaking to them at Mount Sinai.

"But again, I was rewarded. Abba made aliya. Boxes and boxes accompanied him. All the finest exemplars of his library were in those boxes. I opened them and searched for my old friends – and once again, the four volumes, side by side, appeared before me, beloved and pleasant on the library shelf and not separated in their box! (a paraphrase of David's words on Saul and Jonathan, ed.) I lift them with love and much affection, remove the dust from them, air them and place them in a place of honor on the new shelves in our home. Here they stand at the edge of the third shelf on the eastern wall of the library, here they stand in their appointed place to this day.

"I travelled far and wide to reach the places where I found Torah and I kept its precepts in dire poverty, but the Rambam held a special place for me always, and every time I remembered my first days of getting to know him, a wave of love would wash over me. May it be that the hearts of our children open to the many books of our great Torah giants as my heart opened to the books of the Rambam."

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At the Rambam Conference, those attending heard fascinating talks by erudite speakers on topics such as Emunah, Redemption, Justice, the Cave of the Patriarchs during Maimonides' lifetime, women in leadership positions, parenting and nutrition, all as reflected in the Rambam's monumental works.

Tiberias Mayor Boaz Yosef. Rabbi Yamin Levy, president of the Rambam Center, Prof. Meir Hildesheimer, President of Orot Yisrael College Rabbi Itiel Bar Levy of the Education Ministry, Rabbi Eitan Eisman, Rabbi Chaim Fogel, and Dr. Chana Katan of Orot, Dr. Leah Wiesel of Bar Ilan, Dr Dr. Gershon Bar Kochba, Supreme Court Justice Yael Vilner, are some of those who shared theiir wisdom with the attendees. Kobi Arieli, Religious Zionist standup comedian Kobi Arieli was the lively emcee, regaling the audience with stories of his upbringing in a oombination Litvish-Hassidic family and famous Israeli singer (who became a baal teshuva) Ariel Zilber performed his most well-loved songs on the first evening.

But all of those fortunate enough to be present, including this writer, will remember most hearing, in utter silence, the words of beloved Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neria zts"l the founder and head of the yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh and the Bnei Akiva yeshiva/ulpena network, member of the Knesset for the NRP, and one of Rabbi Abraham Yitschak HaCohen Kook's most influential disciples, freed from a Soviet prison through Rabbi Kook's intervention, and later known as "the father of the knit kippah generation." May we merit to continue in the path he and the Rambam paved for us.

Translation of Rabbi Neria's words by Rochel Sylvetsky