How long does it take to write and publish a book? One recently released work took some eighty-four years to see the light of day in Jerusalem. But with its publication the Torah world has been blessed with a new, vowelized edition of the Torah Temimah, complete with the supra-commentary Meshivat Nefesh – a work begun in the 1920s by a prolific rabbi among whose works was a weekly column several decades later in The Jewish Press.
Our story begins in 1921 in London, then moves to Los Angeles, Pinsk, Brooklyn, and, finally, Yerushalayim. A 25-year-old yeshiva bachur from London named Yaakov Moshe Feldman encounters a copy of the Torah Temimah and is immediately enthralled. Torah Temimah is an encyclopedic edition of the Chumash with relevant Talmudic and Midrashic passages cited on each verse and a brilliant commentary explaining and interpreting each passage.
It was authored by Rav Baruch HaLevy Epstein of Pinsk; his father, the author of the famed Aruch HaShulchan, wrote about Torah Temimah: “Anyone who delves into it will marvel and wonder how this great work could ever have come about, if not for special grace shown from Above.”
The work quickly became popular and to this day is frequently consulted in homes, synagogues and yeshivot throughout the world.
The young bachur, soon to become Rabbi Moses J. Feldman, learned in London’s Eitz Chaim Yeshiva, where his chavruta was Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Herzog, who later would serve as chief rabbi of Israel.
The bachur was in close contact with various leading rabbis even at his young age. He spent much time in the London home of HaRav A. I. Kook, another future chief rabbi of the Holy Land, who was stranded for five years in Great Britain when World War I prevented his return to Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Feldman (RYM) went on to become a leading rabbi in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, which was then the largest Jewish community west of Chicago.
In late 1928, RYM wrote to Rav Epstein of the great importance he ascribed to Torah Temimah and proposed to compile an index for the work. Rav Epstein “in his great humility, responded immediately” in two postcards, RYM related. In one, Rav Epstein stated he would be “grateful” for such a work, and asked to see a sample. In the second, written two months later, he praised what he saw and concluded with a blessing for success in whatever manner RYM would choose to carry out the work.
In reviewing the Torah Temimah, RYM noted that it was replete with technical and other errors, mainly bibliographical, due to the author’s having worked mainly from his memory (encyclopedic as it was widely acknowledged to be). RYM realized a complete critical review of the work was required, in addition to expanding many of the scholarly points raised by Rav Epstein.
In 1933, RYM sent several samples of what was to become the Meshivat Nefesh to a renowned Torah scholar, Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Hilman. Author of the Ohr HaYashar on the Yerushalmi, Rav Hilman founded the Ohel Torah yeshiva in Jerusalem, whose students included Rabbis Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
Rav Hilman praised the Meshivat Nefesh samples he saw – but there it stopped; the work barely progressed for the next five decades. This was largely because RYM was busy with various responsibilities, including his monumental four-volume work Areshet Sefatenu (with two additional volumes still in manuscript). The title page describes it as a “Concordance, Interpretive Anthology, Dictionary of Biblical Quotations and Idioms, Source Book of Hebrew Prayer and Proverb.”
Finally, toward the end of his life, RYM got to work once again on Meshivat Nefesh, completing its last pages while on his deathbed. Two of his sons – Rabbi Dr. David M. Feldman, longtime beloved rabbi in Brooklyn and Teaneck and prolific author specializing in medical ethics, and the late attorney Eliot B. Feldman – lost no time in publishing Meshivat Nefesh in 1982.
As they wrote in the preface, RYM “completed the sacred task just prior to his death, on the 8th day of Pesach 1981…. [and was] delighted to have fulfilled his promise to the author of the Torah Temimah. He has, as well, fulfilled admirably his unspoken pledge, to the scholar and student, to render this monumental work whole in substance and accessible in form. Torat Hashem Temimah Meshivat Nafesh.”