Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Schwartz, Z”l

Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Schwartz, Z”l

Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Schwartz, z”l, mechanech, writer, and former Mara d’Asra of Congregation Sfard of Flatbush, was niftar on 22 Shevat. He was 60 years old, and had been suffering from a serious illness for several months.

In each of the diverse roles Rabbi Schwartz filled, his depth of thought, balanced by his easygoing personality and good humor, made him a uniquely beloved and valued figure, leaving an indelible impression on those whom he encountered.

A dedicated talmid and devotee of sefarim such as the Pachad Yitzchak, Rav Tzadok Hakohen, the Torah of Beis Izhbitz and other similar works, he drew from the deep waters of Chassidus and machshavah with a distinctive ability to bring their teachings into his own life, as well as into the lives of others.

Rabbi Schwartz was born in 1957 and spent his formative years in Los Angeles. His parents, Reb Meilech, z”l, and Mrs. Lydia Schwartz, a”h, were both Holocaust survivors from Poland, who vividly imparted the authentic atmosphere of yiras Shamayim that they had experienced in their youth to their children. Reb Meilech, an Ostrovtzer chassid, had led the Talmud Torah of the kehillah of Lodz prior to the war, and after emigrating to America served as a Rav, chazzan and shochet.

Young Dovid attended Yeshivas Ohr Elchanan, then under the leadership of Harav Simcha Wasserman, zt”l, and the end of his high school years traveled to New York to attend Yeshivah Rabbi Chaim Berlin. The move would have a profound effect on his life. He was privileged to know Harav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, whose works were a particular favorite of Rabbi Schwartz, and he became a dedicated talmid of, ybl”c, Harav Aharon Schechter, shlita, with whom he forged a close bond.

The many years he spent within the walls of that hallowed institution served to nurture his innate affinity for sifrei machshavah and the profound thoughts they contain.

Additionally, Rabbi Schwartz spent a year in Eretz Yisrael, where he studied in Yeshivas Mir under Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l.

In 1984, he married Sima Stein, the daughter of Rabbi Chaim Stein, one of Chaim Berlin’s early talmidim. Rabbi Schwartz was a member of Kollel Gur Aryeh for several years before accepting a position as a Rebbi in the Fasman Yeshivah High School, a division of Beis Hamedrash LaTorah, in Skokie, Illinois, later moving on to Yeshivah Tiferes Torah in Staten Island.

For more than 20 years, Rabbi Schwartz dedicated himself to outreach work, first teaching at Be’er Hagolah Institute, a school geared to immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, and later at the Jewish Heritage Center of Queens and Long Island. His unique ability to impart sophisticated concepts in Yiddishkeit to students who largely lacked formal yeshivah background made him a particularly effective force. His eloquence, wit, calm personality, and genuine caring for his fellow Jew made him all the more successful in encouraging many to strive for greater heights in avodas Hashem.

Starting as a young bachur, Rabbi Schwartz’s family background, thirst for ruchniyus, and intellectual leanings attracted him to the sefarim of the giants of Polish Chassidus. For many years, he wrote and distributed a weekly pamphlet, written in English, “From the Waters of the Shiloach,” based on the teachings of the sefarim of Bais Izhbitz. Combining his talent for writing as well as for explaining sophisticated concepts, these publications served as a valuable elucidation of some of the most radical and complex works in the catalogue of Chassidus.

In the years when Harav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, worked to make his divrei Torah available in print, among others, he enlisted Rabbi Schwartz to collaborate on producing what became the sefer Mayan Beis Hashoevah.

His unique skill with the written word and strong grasp of world affairs also made Rabbi Schwartz a greatly valued and beloved member of the staff of Hamodia for many years.

In 2011, Rabbi Schwartz began to serve as the Rav of Congregation Sfard, a historic shul on Coney Island Avenue, displaying great dedication to its small and diverse kehillah. He delivered several regular shiurim in both halachah and Aggadah. Each Shabbos morning, at Kiddush, Rabbi Schwartz would offer divrei Torah and lead niggunim, imparting an authentic “Yiddishe taam” to the weekly event.”

From there, the aron was taken to Lakewood for kevurah.

Rabbi Schwartz is survived by his wife, Mrs. Sima Schwartz; brothers, Reb Chaim Menachem and Reb Avrohom Dov; sons, Reb Yosef Chanina, Reb Binyomin, Reb Menachem Mendel, Shlomo, Nosson Nechemia, and Elimelech; daughter, Miss Gittel Leah Schwartz, as well as by several grandchildren.

Yehi zichro baruch

By Rafael Hoffman
Originally published in Hamodia

Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman – ztz”l

Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, the leader of Torah Jewry, passed away today at the age of 104. An estimated 600,000 people attended the funeral, held on short notice.

Here is an excerpt from Rabbi Shteinman, Humble Giant, Serving God and the Jewish people for 104 full years.

Torah Leadership

In contrast to the Western style of choosing leaders – often a self-aggrandizing popularity contest between egocentrics – Rabbi Shteinman was chosen with no elections, campaigning, or brash publicity antics. He became leader based on his deep humility, compassion, respect for God, and commitment to serve – with no thought to personal compensation or glorification. He served with no salary, no palatial office, no private jet, and no term of office – maintaining his position solely on the people’s trust.

When it came to Torah study, Rabbi Shteinman was a purist. He defined “yeshiva” as not simply a place for high-level Torah study, but as a safe haven free of forces antithetical to Torah. Particularly in the digital age, where negative influence is impervious to physical barriers, he believed that the best protection is unswerving commitment to Torah values.

Rabbi Shteinman was known as a moderate. He backed the idea of Nachal Charedi, providing a path for yeshiva students to serve in the Israeli army. For this Rabbi Shteinman took some heat, and for years courageously stood up to criticism. Rabbi Shteinman instituted a policy of “no child left behind,” starting schools for less-talented children, children of immigrants, and others at risk. And he increased Torah influence in Israel by approving the inclusion of a charedi minister in Israel’s cabinet.

Rabbi Shteinman was a role model for anyone trying to steer clear of the many trappings and pitfalls of a modern lifestyle. When Israeli Ambassador to Japan, Nissim Ben Shitrit, visited Rabbi Shteinman’s small and humble apartment, he astonishingly remarked: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

On weekdays, his entire daily food intake was one cucumber, one boiled potato, and few spoons of oatmeal. Rabbi Shteinman had trained his body to desire food only for pure motives – to keep his body healthy – without a drop of hedonism. On Shabbat, he ate different foods in honor of the holy day. When he was offered delicacies as a guest, he obliged by eating half a grape.

Rabbi Shteinman typically sat on a word bench with no back. He used various techniques to stay awake for long hours and study. Over the years, many people offered to upgrade his accommodations, but Rabbi Shteinman always refused, insisting that he has precisely what he needs and no more.

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Scher, ztz”l

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Scher, ztz”l, a Beyond BT contributor, was niftar on the second day of Marcheshvan, October 22, 2017.

Mordechai Yosef Scher was born and raised in Stamford, CT. He moved to Israel shortly after finishing high school. He was educated in some of Israel’s best known Religious Zionist institutions, notably Machon Meir, Yeshivat Mercaz Harav Kook, the Shaal program of Yeshivat Shaalvim, and the Midrasha Gevoha.

Rabbi Scher served in the Israel Defense Forces as an infantry soldier and combat medical specialist.

Rabbi Scher was certified as a sofer (scribe) by Rav Shmuel Wozner of B’nei Brak. He was certified to examine and decide on the work of scribes by Rav Mordechai Friedlander. He was certified in the laws of kiddushin and testimony by Dayan Ezra Batzri. He was ordained for the rabbinate by Rav Shear Yeshuv Cohen (Chief Rabbi of Haifa), Rav Uzi Kalcheim of blessed memory, Rav Gershon Binet, and Rav Zalman Nehemia Goldberg of the kollel dayanim at the Midrasha Gevoha. He held Master Teacher certification from Yeshivat Shaalvim.

Rabbi Scher held a BSc in Health Sciences, a BSN in Nursing, and was board certified as a flight paramedic (FP-C). He worked part-time as a flight nurse/flight paramedic at Med Flight Air Ambulance. He also worked as an Emergency Department nurse, a rural paramedic, and a wilderness search team paramedic.

He was among the founding members of Atalaya Search and Rescue team of Santa Fe, and was a search dog handler with Mountain Canine Corps of Los Alamos. Rabbi Scher has taught and served in the rabbinate in the Jewish communities of Jerusalem, Israel; Houston, TX; Vancouver, BC; Worcester and Boston, MA and Sante Fe, NM. (adapted from the RCA website).

Here is an excerpt from the Eulogies for Rabbi Scher:

Rabbi Scher was not someone who wanted to be in the spotlight. He did not seek to be a leader. His greatest joy was to sit in the Beit Midrash and learn in the traditional ways that Jews have learned for millennium, and to have anyone who wanted to learn HaShem’s Torah to sit with him, and learn. To start at the beginning of something, and work through it as it was meant to be learned, until they got to the end. And then to move on to the next thing.

Rabbi Scher was fundamentally a teacher. The halacha states that a person should not eat or sleep in a Beit Midrash, except for a Torah scholar and his students, “because the Beit HaMidrash is his home.” (SA O”Ch 151:1, MB 8) Rabbi Scher was definitely someone for whom the Beit Midrash was home. He learned for many years in Merkaz HaRav, the yeshiva of Rav Kook, in Jerusalem. When it came time to take a teaching position he only sat for a smicha exam because his colleagues told him he needed it for getting a job as a teacher. Although he far exceeded the knowledge needed to be a shul Rav, he never wanted to be treated as such. I don’t know that he ever quite forgave me for insisting on calling him “Rabbi,” but I felt obligated to do so out of respect for his Torah.

We all saw how much he loved to teach, how much he loved being in an environment of Torah learning. When we had, for several years, students from YU who came to join the congregation for Rosh HaShanah, he had such joy in just being in the presence of people who cared about Torah, and reminiscing with them about their Rabbis when they learned in Yeshiva.

Here is a link to the posts that Rabbi Scher contributed to Beyond BT. May his Neshama have an Aliyah.

The Mesorah Of Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz

Admins note: Art Scroll has a special place in the hearts of almost every Baal Teshuva. Imagine how much more difficult our entry into Torah Judaism would have been without the guiding hand of the Art Scroll Siddurim, Gemorahs, Tanach and everything else they publish. Thank you Rabbi Zlotowitz and may your neshamah have an aliyah as a result of the great service you have performed and continue to perform for the Jewish People.

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Five Towns Jewish Times

Perhaps his e‑mail address said it all: “Meir at Mesorah.com.” Perhaps more so than any individual in the past 800 years, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, zt’l, brought Jewish people back to their mesorah—their birthright of Talmud, their yerushah of Torah.

Rabbi Zlotowitz and his partner in a remarkable revolution, Rabbi Nosson Scherman, ybl’c, achieved something that others could only dream about. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, founder of the Mussar movement, envisioned that perhaps one day there could be a translation of the entire Bavli. Reb Meir made it happen.

And, as everyone knows, it wasn’t just Gemara. The ArtScroll Mishnayos project is a masterful work. There is the Siddur, the Chumash, the Yerushalmi, the Midrashim. There is the Yom Kippur Kattan Siddur. There is the beautiful Tishah B’Av kinnos. ArtScroll has well over 2,000 titles—each one unique and exceptional. Because of Rabbi Zlotowitz, English speakers are now privy to the depths of the Talmud, the shmuessin of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt’l, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt’l, and others, the insights on tefillah of Rav Shimon Schwab, the Chofetz Chaim on lashon ha’ra, and the crystal-clear yet deep expositions of halachos by such poskim as Rav Binyomin Forst and Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen.

There is not an English-speaking Torah home in America that does not possess a sefer that Rabbi Zlotowitz published. There is almost no aspect or field of the oeuvre of Torah literature that was not reintroduced to Klal Yisrael in a language that they could understand—and with an unprecedented scholarship as well.

It could not have happened without “Meir being Meir.”

When he made up to do something, he did it. And at almost every juncture, his vision was initially dismissed as sheer madness. Yet his perseverance enabled him to achieve the well-nigh impossible. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman was initially not a supporter of the ArtScroll Gemara project. He feared that people would no longer horveh on unfolding the latent processes of reasoning in the Gemara when it was handed to them on a platter. After he saw the ArtScroll Hebrew Yerushalmi, Rav Shteinman changed his mind. Reb Meir was there and shared a picture of Rav Shteinman giving shiur out of the Schottenstein Yerushalmi. Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, as well, learned out of the ArtScroll Hebrew edition. Reb Meir shared the picture with a number of people.

Meir had a remarkable gift of writing and presenting complex aspects of Torah to the reader so that the reader could truly comprehend it.

He was larger than life. He had enormous creativity, passion, and drive combined with a fantastic sense of humor.

Once in shul, Reb Meir had fainted into the lap of someone sitting next to him. The atmosphere was tense and grim. People were concerned. When he came to, Reb Meir realized what had happened. He gathered his energy and yelled, “Kohanim arois!” (“Kohanim out!”). The entire shul burst out in laughter. Even when ill, this was Meir being Meir.

One Shabbos during Parashas Zachor, he approached a young child who knew he was the publisher of ArtScroll. He whispered to the young man, “Come here. I work at ArtScroll. I know whether it is really ‘zecher Amalek’ or ‘zeicher Amalek.’ But I’m not telling anyone.”

I once met him at a local zoo on a Wednesday—when admission is free—on chol ha’moed Pesach. This was after ArtScroll had picked up financially. I told him, “Reb Meir, I understand why I am here today; I am in chinuch. But you? You are now a successful businessman.”

He responded, “Are you kidding? I have almost all of my grandchildren here, too. This would have cost me four or five times what it would cost you.”

I teased him about a comment in the first edition of the ArtScroll Shalosh Seudos publication. It said that shalosh seudos commemorates the three meals in which the evil Haman was handed over to the Jewish people, citing the Aruch HaShulchan. “How could ArtScroll have allowed this error to creep in?” I teased. He responded that it was a practical joke someone had pulled that had gone awry. I had my doubts. The three seudos in which “ha’man”—“the manna”—was given seemed more likely to be a 3 a.m. bleary-eyed rendering. The twinkle in his eye indicated that he might have agreed.

Reb Meir had a kindness and generosity of spirit that endeared him to people. When people were down on their luck, he not only helped them, he lifted their spirits by treating them with the utmost respect as equals. He was a friend to those who did not have friends. He understood pain. He was a kindred spirit to Ronnie Greenwald, a’h, and they were good friends as well. They worked on numerous projects together—helping others, helping Klal Yisrael.

He also had a deep and abiding relationship and friendship with the gedolei Torah of the last generation and of the current one. And they were his friends as well. Recently, Reb Meir spent an hour with the Belzer Rebbe on his last trip to Eretz Yisrael.

A while ago, one leading gadol saw him uncharacteristically feeling down. Reb Meir confided in him that he did not think he could continue with his dream of translating Shas into English. He was having enormous difficulty finding a sponsor for the second volume. The gadol encouraged him and loaned him $25,000 in order that he could continue.

But how did it all start?

Reb Meir was a talmid of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim. He was a talmid muvhak of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, and later of his son Reb Dovid. His relationship with Reb Dovid became very close. They would speak each erev Shabbos.

After leaving yeshiva, Reb Meir entered the business world, printing brochures, invitations, and kesubos. In the meantime, he learned and continued in the high level of Torah scholarship as he had done while in yeshiva.

Reb Nosson Sherman, his partner at ArtScroll, once told me that “the ArtScroll revolution” was actually part of the aftermath of a tragedy in 1975. Meir Fogel, z’l, was a rebbe in a yeshiva who was a close friend of Meir Zlotowitz. He passed away in his sleep one night as a young man—he had married but had not had children. Reb Meir Zlotowitz was so distressed that he wanted to do something in memory of his friend, to give him a legacy. He had the idea of doing a translation and commentary of Megillas Esther that would be completed by the sheloshim.

Reb Meir asked Reb Nosson Sherman, a principal at Karlin Stolin, to edit it and add an introduction—which turned out to be the first ArtScroll publication.

The publication caught on and went through many printings before the first Purim. There was nothing like it before. It was a need that had not been recognized. They were encouraged to continue such work by the leading gedolim—Rav Moshe and Rav Yaakov. Soon they embarked upon the rest of the megillos too.

Reb Meir himself then penned an incredible commentary and anthology on Bereishis. The rest was history.

Reb Nosson Sherman remarked that it would be fair to say, “No Meir Fogel, no ArtScroll.”

This is not to say that the ArtScroll company would not have existed. ArtScroll was originally a graphic-arts company. Reb Meir was talented and artistic; indeed, he was a perfectionist. He created beautiful invitations and kesubos. He would later use these talents to create the masterpieces that the ArtScroll publishing house would bring forth.

One year during the Yamim Nora’im, Reb Meir had difficulty following which particular section to say. He commented, “That’s it. Next year I am coming out with a Rosh Hashanah Machzor that is clear.” And then he did.

While making that Machzor, they had a question about what to do when Shabbos was accepted but Ma’ariv was not yet davened. Is “l’eila u’l’eilah” added? They posed the question to Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky. He responded, “Ich veis nisht mir; daf freggen an alter gabbai—I don’t know. We will have to ask an older gabbai.” Subsequently they posed the same question to Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l. Remarkably, he responded with the exact same line.

Gedolim recognized the revolution that Rabbi Zlotowitz had wrought and of which all talmidei chachamim were the beneficiaries.

A number of years ago, Reb Meir showed remarkable personal strength. He had taken it upon himself to lose quite a number of pounds. He successfully kept it off. The loss of weight imbued him with a greater dignity. People commented that they did not recognize him at first.

A mere five weeks ago, he had trouble with his hip. He had suffered with arthritis for a while. That brought the realization that there was trouble with internal bleeding and issues of the liver. After transferring to NYU, there were further, dire complications. The family was called in, but miraculously he recovered. By Friday he was back to his usual self. But then he started bleeding internally once again. A short while later he passed away.

Thousands of people and the gedolei Yisrael have lost a friend. And Klal Yisrael has lost one of the most innovative and visionary minds of the past eight centuries.

Reb Meir is survived by his wife, Mrs. Rochel Zlotowitz, and a family of bnei Torah, including their children, Reb Gedaliah Zlotowitz (who is at ArtScroll), Reb Ira Zlotowitz, Reb Boruch Zlotowitz, Reb Chaim Zlotowitz, Mrs. Estie Dicker, Mrs. Faigie Perlowitz, Mrs. Devorah Morgenstern, and Mrs. Tzivi Munk, and, bli ayin ha’ra, numerous grandchildren. Some of his grandchildren attend TAG and Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway.

All of us should think about where Klal Yisrael would be if the ArtScroll revolution had not happened. What would have happened if a caring young man had not decided to make an English Megillas Esther to honor the memory of a friend who had tragically left the world without children? Reb Meir Zlotowitz, zt’l, was at the forefront of restoring the mesorah to Klal Yisrael.

He leaves Klal Yisrael with a twofold legacy—a shining example of what a human being can accomplish if he sets his mind to it, and an ever-growing body of Torah-true publications that embody the highest ideals of Torah and Mussar. Reb Meir, tehei nafshecha tzrur b’tzror ha’chaim. We will all miss you.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

Divrei Hesped for Rav Kalman Zev Levine – Killed al Kiddush Hashem 25 of Cheshvan 5775

Streams of Tears

Yermiyahu cried “Einei einei yordu mayim” (1,16). Rashi explains that this refers to crying constantly. What is the deeper message that the Navi is conveying to us?

Generally crying helps a person to feel better afterwards. However when a person feels boundless pain he just keeps crying and crying and crying. This is what Rashi means; even after all the crying, the mourner over Yesuhalayim still does not still does not feel better.

I do not believe that I have every cried so much in one day as I did on the day of the murder of these four kedoshim. The first niftar I heard about was Rav Aryeh Kupinsky my next door neighbor is a yedid nefesh, who learned together with me in yeshiva. Two years ago his fourteen year old daughter died unexpectedly in her sleep. His children were just getting over the shock of losing their sister and now their father is dead.

Afterwards I heard about Rav Moshe Twerski who was a magid shiur in Toras Moshe where I studied for five years as a bachur and I cried even more. Then I heard about Rav Dovid Goldberg, my son in laws uncle who made sheva berachos for my daughter not long ago in his home, and more crying. After these three doses of bad news in one morning I thought I had exhausted my supply of tears.

However at 1PM I got a phone call from one of my talmidim that Rav Kalman Levine, who is a rosh chebura and rebbi in my kollel, had been murdered. At this point I just collapsed in despair. The tears have been flowing all day, and the pain just gets stronger and stronger. There is very much to be said about all of these kedoshim, but I am going to focus on Rav Levine who was a member of my kollel.

The Biggest and the Smallest

Rav Levine had many, many maylos; but perhaps his greatest attribute was his humility. Rav Levine was a master of the entire Torah, and wherever you asked him, shas, halacha, mussar, the source was on his lips. He would mention the answer nonchalantly, like it was not a big deal that he knew everything. He exemplified what Chazal say “Lo pasak girsa m’pumya” Torah did not leave his mouth for a second.

Yet with all of this Torah knowledge, the concept of honor did not even cross his mind. He exemplified what Chazal tell us (Shabbos 105b) “He was the gadol of the chabura” the greatest of all the talmidim in the Beis Medrash, and at the same time he was “The katan of the chabura” for he carried himself with the ultimate simplicity and pashtus.

On the way to the kevura, his nephew Rabbi Yehuda Kraft commented that the Chafetz Chaim writes that if a person receives honor in this world, this detracts from his reward in the next. Rav Levine goes to olam habah with all of his reward intact completely.

Oved Hashem

Rav Levine was a complete oved Hashem. He learned until very late hours every night and woke up every morning for neiztz without exception. I daven neitz occasionally, and I am astounded how without exception he never missed a minyan. I was amazed by his consistency.

Rav Levine was a zariz. Wherever he went it was fast and in the midst of sherus, complete service of Hashem. He went from mitzvah to mitzvah like an arrow being shot from a bow – straight for the target. He lived and breathed the Boreh Olam.

Rav Levine headed a shiur in Mesilas Yesharim in the kollel once a week. This was the essence of his life. Everything he did was just one straight path to the truth.

His midos were exemplary. Rav Levine was always happy, and when he attended a wedding he was literally bubbling over with simcha. It gave him the greatest joy to see that his talmidim were growing and progressing.

Rav Levine’s greatest joy was Torah learning and whenever he was learning it was like he was in olam habah. When something went wrong he would say, “Anyway this world is not where we are meant to be. Our real home is Olam Habah.”

Emunah Sheleima

Most of us have a point, as small as it may be, of safek in emunah. By Rav Levine there was no point. His emunah was 100% complete with not an iota of room for any doubt.

Rav Levine and I traveled home together from kollel every day for a number of years. During the last year the conversation was almost always the same. Rav Levine constantly remarked that it is clear to anyone who can see that we are at the threshold of redemption. For Rav Levine, moshiach was already here.

Every time there was news of a killing or kidnapping his emunah was strengthened and strengthened. He would often say that there is absolutely nothing left for us to do except to come to the recognition that we have nothing to rely on except Hashem. He would say these words with all of his heart and all his soul.

Speaking to Hashem

Rav Levine davened like he was standing directly in front of the shechinah. The night before his petira he davened in the kolllel. He had his hands up in the air and he was speaking to Hashem.

I often davened next to Rav Levine and he was literally crying during prayer. Every single beracha was taken with the greatest seriousness. During his tefilah he looked like he was engaging in war – a battle to raise his emunah higher and higher and come to a complete recognition of Hashem.

A few days before he remarked to one of his students how it is so easy for a person not to be yotzei tefilah. If a person does not have kavanah in the first berachah of Shemona Esreh. Rav Leveine had kavana in every Shemona Esreh.

There was no such thing in his life as chopping a tefilah. A few days before his petria he told me Maariv takes me half an hour. He coomented that the only way he could daven and still make our ride is if he davened early.

Guarding His Toungue

Rav Levine guarded his tongue like no one else could. We once had a passionate discussion about one of the halachos of shemiras halashon. I was lenient and he was machmir. The discussion got so heated that we almost came to blows. In the end we agreed on the halacha, but I saw that he not only knew the halachos of lashon hara he lived them.

After Rav Levine had been buried one of his students got up and gave a fiery derasha. He spoke about Rav Levine’s hasmada and middos. Even after a full day of crying there were more and more tears.

However one of the most inspiring things he said was about Rav Levine’s shemirras halashon. You could not get in a single word of lashon hara when talking to Rav Levine. He had a complete mastery of the halachos, and they permeated through his blood.

Korbanos Tzibor

As Jews living in Eretz Yisrael we are being pursued daily. Jewish blood is spilled and the enemy just gets more and more blood thirsty. What can we do to deal with this situation?

Rav Rubin, the rav of the shul where the incident took place, mentioned that the way of the Jewish people is not to take revenge. Our job is to serve Hashem with complete emunah. The tests that we are experiencing now are all nisyanos in emunah. Each person has to think about what happened today and think how they can increase their emunah and come back to Hashem in teshuva sheleima.

The rav related that when he was learning in kollel they received a special visit from Rav Shach who was already very old and weak. Rav Shach just read the pasukim of Bereshis, explaining how Hashem created the entire world. Initially Rav Rubin was disappointed that this gadol b’Torah was relaying such a simple message, but in his later years the rav understood the great depth of relating emunah peshutah, simple faith in Hashem.

The rav also mentioned that the custom is to bury those who die al Kiddush Hashem in their blood stained clothes. The Shach explains that the reason for this is that when he gets to Olam Habah Hashem will see their blood stained clothes. This will arouse His anger against the murderers.

May the blood of these four kedoshim, and all the Jews that have died al Kiddush Hashem, come before Hashem’s throne and scream out for mercy. We are in the most difficult times, and there is nothing that can help us now except for tefilah and increasing our emunah in Hashem. May these four kedoshim be a malitz yosher for us and may our tefilos be answered speedily.

Shloshim for Reb Meir Schuster, Man at the Wall

Ever get the sinking feeling that your efforts don’t really matter? Like you really can’t make a difference?
When feelings of futility hit, we can now watch the Shloshim observance for Reb Meir Tzvi Schuster, of blessed memory, which was held yesterday in Yerushalayim. Then we will quickly remember what one person can do. It can be viewed at the website: www.rebmeirschuster.org.

As explained in one of the hespedim given, Reb Noach Weinberg, of blessed memory, who was the Rosh Ha Yeshiva ofAish Ha Torah said, “If one person can destroy 6 million Jewish people, one person can save 6 million Jewish people.”

Reb Meir Schuster – from an ordinary background like you or me – developed the clarity, the caring and the perseverance to help tens of thousands of Jewish people return to a Jewish way of life. And from all of these returnees are already coming hundreds of thousands of children and grandchildren who could have lost their Judiasm otherwise. This is not even counting all the schools, programs, books, articles, etc. already made by all these baalei teshuva (and their offspring) which have helped so many other Jewish people come to value their heritage. From the exponential ripple effect created, 6 million does not seem far off at all.

For decades, day and night, Reb Meir Schuster ran after each neshama he could find at the Kotel and the Central Bus Station in Yerushalayim, bringing each diamond in the rough to a Shabbos meal or a center for Jewish learning . He founded the Heritage Houses so that at last there would be Jewish hostels in the Old City of Yerushalayim and later, he started the Shorashim Outreach Centers for Israelis that are also flourishing. Without self-interest, he simply and consistently devoted himself to doing what he saw needed to be done. And then he just kept at it.

Perhaps what can inspire us most of all is remembering that Reb Meir Schuster was not charismatic and he was not a master salesman. He was a shy and sweet man of few words, but every Jewish person was extremely dear to him, and that is what came across.

Yesterday, privately, Rebbetzin Schuster shared some thoughts on what she learned in the past month about how Reb Meir succeeded with all the young people he reached. She put it this way, “Reb Meir saw into their souls…and they saw into his heart.”

In case anyone would like to contribute to the wonderful endeavors that Reb Meir Schuster began, in his memory, I am providing their links here:
Women’s Heritage House http://www.rebmeirschuster.org/DONATEhh.php
Men’s Heritage House http://www.heritagehouse.org.il/donate/
Shorashim Outreach Centers http://www.shorashimcenters.org/Donate.html

A Burial Highlights Our Collective Spiritual Sensitivity

Divisions have always been a factor among the Jews, and our times are no different, but at our core we’re all children of Abraham, partners in the covenant, possessing spiritual sensitivity, and destined to help the world unite and collectively connect to Hashem. An event last week brought this message home.

Through Facebook, I keep in touch with friends with whom I grew up. Our neighborhood synagogue was Conservative, but many people intermarried, although they have not lost an awareness of their Jewish heritage. Last week, a friend’s mother passed away and they asked me to officiate at the funeral. The oldest son recently had a conversation with the mother about whether she preferred a cremation or a burial. I’ve seen this before, and Rabbis have told me that the main reason that they consider cremation is because it is less expensive and because they were never taught the reasons behind Jewish laws and customs. When the spiritual concepts behind a proper Jewish burial are explained, many will pay the extra money to provide this for their parents.

At the advice of my Rav, my focus was to provide a proper burial for the mother, which primarily included a Tahara, a pine box casket, and the actual burial performed by the immediate family and myself. I emphasized the tremendous final act of loving-kindness they were performing and that struck a very deep spiritual and emotional chord.

In the eulogy, I spoke very briefly about the body, the soul and its immortality. I pointed out how the strong loving-kindness traits of the mother shaped her soul, and paralleled the primary spiritual traits of Sarah and Abraham. Every word was true and they clearly saw the spiritual connection between them, their mother and all the Jewish people. And this message can be made clear to almost all Jews that I know, observant or not, since they are spiritually sensitive and full of loving-kindness.

The collective soul of the Jewish People is the second highest of the five levels of the soul. Every Jew is a part of that collective soul and we immeasurably improve as individuals and as a people when we sensitize each other to our spiritual traits, specifically loving-kindness. In the merit of the loving-kindness of the deceased and her family, may we internalize this message a little more and help each other grow spiritually and connect to Hashem.

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller on Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller will be lecturing around the United States for 2 weeks, starting today. Here is her itinerary.

She will be speaking at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel on Monday, November 21 at 8:30 PM for Women on the topic “Closing the Gap Between Mind, Heart and Action” . The address is 147-02 73rd Avenue, Kew Gardens Hills, NY 11367.

You can read Rebbetzin Heller’s articles on Aish and her site and you can download some of her mp3s on Torah Anytime and on Naaleh.com.

In here most recent newsletter, Rebbetzin Heller wrote a hesped for Rav Nossin Tzvi Finkel zt”l. Here is an excerpt:

My daughter Miri’s husband Shmuli, (who some of you know) studies at the Mir, and has been close to the Rosh Yeshiva since he came to Israel close to 20 years ago. The Rosh Yeshiva had an intensely personal relationship to him, and to virtually every other student who really wanted one. His son asked if he really knew all 5000 by name. He said, “I’m not sure, but I know that I like them all.” He enjoyed the students visiting him before the holidays and bringing him Torah thoughts that they developed from whatever section of Talmud they were studying. He would say, “That makes my holiday.”

Shmuli came with his little girl (who he took with him to make it easier for Miri to finish things up). He left in more than ample time to get home before Yom Tov. Minutes before the holiday began, Miri called me. “Mommy, what do you think I should do? Shmuli left for the Rosh Yeshiva hours ago, and he still didn’t come back. He left his phone here by accident. I don’t know where they are. Do you think I should call the police to see if something happened?” I told her that before she calls the police, she should call the Rosh Yeshiva’s house to find out when he left exactly. Maybe he was delayed there for whatever reason.

She called, and the Rosh Yeshiva himself answered the phone. After Miri identified herself, and told him about the reason for her call, he said, “Of course they were here. Your little girl looked so cute. Her pink gingham dress is so adorable.” He went on to discuss her socks, and how the ribbons on top matched the ribbons in her hair. Bus schedules were soon on the agenda. Miri didn’t know what to make of the entire conversation. Why would the Rosh Yeshiva spend so much time on small talk? As he was soldiering on (is the material wash and wear?) the doorbell rang and Shmuli came in. When the Rosh Yeshiva heard Shumli’s voice he immediately wished her a good Yom Tov and hung up. He was sure that Shmuli would be home any minute, and kept her on the phone to prevent her from becoming hysterical. Shmuli told her about the suspicious object that prevented the bus from getting to Har Nof on time, the absence of taxis on the road, and finally the trek home with the baby, who by this time looked considerably less adorable than she had hours earlier.

Would you have seen the outfit?

I doubt that I would, and even if I did, that I would be sensitive enough to know what to do with the information filed in my mind under “trivia”.

Rav Finkel started out in Chicago, went to Arie Crown Day School, and was known as Natie. He came to Israel wearing a baseball cap (although, he would quip, “I knew enough to leave my golf clubs back in Chicago). He obligates all of us to question our level of our caring, dedication, courage, perseverance and most of all love of Torah.

Harav Mordechai ben Salman Eliyahu – A Simple Reminiscence

This is not a eulogy. It will not fulfill the demands of such. The praise is far too faint, not for any lack of the deceased’s exalted qualities; but for my inability to even approximate his true praises.

Just a few hours ago, our master and teacher Harav Mordechai ben Salman Eliyahu was buried. May his merit and memory be a blessing and protection for all Israel. Truly, a very large segment of Israel is deeply mourning this loss. This loss of the Rishon L’tzion (the Principal of Zion), such an appropriate title, is a national and generational loss. But it is also the loss of many little people like myself.

The rav was turned to for guidance in great matters of halacha and policy. Phone calls came to him from all over Israel, and all over the world. Rabbis of all sorts turned to him. Sefardim, Ashkenazim, Chabadnikim, and others. Yet he was always available to little, everyday folks as well.

In 1978 I arrived in Yerushalayim to start learning in yeshiva. I went to study under Rav Dov Begon at Machon Meir. At some point I had a question of halacha that needed to be answered, and Rav Begon said to me go to Rav ben Eliyahu (as he was then known). Okay, what did I know? So I got directions and walked about 5 minutes to the other side of the neighborhood. I knocked on the door, the rabbanit let me in, and within a minute or so I was speaking with the rav. That was the first of tens of meetings. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated. I would walk in, the rav would waive to a chair in a friendly but matter of fact manner, and I would ask what was on my mind. Mostly matters of halacha; occasionally something more philosophical or personal.

The truth is, in those early months I had no idea that I was in the presence of a giant. I noticed soon enough that the Torah scholars, young and old, lined up to see him each morning after morning prayers. Nearly every time I went to his home in the morning or afternoon, there were other yeshiva students or rabbis waiting their turn. For each he had a smile and a matter of fact approach to the issue at hand. But even in Kiryat Moshe, a neighborhood with important yeshivot and Torah scholars, it took an uninformed new immigrant a little while to catch on that I was consulting with one of the great rabbis of the generation.

The rav was held in the highest esteem by Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, by Rav Avrum Shapiro, Rav Shach, and any of the other influential rabbanim of that time in Israel. When he was chosen Chief Sefardi Rabbi/Rishon L’tzion, I had occasion to ask him a question shortly after the announcements. He was receiving congratulatory phone calls from rabbanim all over the world. And he still found a few minutes to help with my relatively small issue, even while fielding the calls. His wife had whispered to me on the way in how he had received a call even from Lubavitch in America!

He had a special respect for the OU, and spoke at the Israel Center when we were on Strauss Street. Even though he had recently been chosen Rishon L’tzion, he kept all his appointments and teaching commitments. He gave a pre-Passover talk at the Israel Center that was simply outstanding. Erudite, yet organized for the common audience; and he stayed and answered questions afterwards.

The rav was turned to on matters great and small by all segments of the Jewish people. He decided matters of halachah with equal ability for Ashkenazim and Sefardim, and took interest in immigrants like the Ethiopian Jews. Only once can I recall him advising me that my question needed an Ashkenazi-informed rav, and he sent me to the other side of the neighborhood to speak with Rav Shaul Yisraeli. For an extended time I went to the rav with questions while I was learning the laws of Sefer Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzah. He was familiar with every aspect, and interested. At one point, he told me that I should also go speak with his brother, Harav Naim, who was especially expert in these matters. Rav Naim ben Eliyahu was a deep, humble man who handled my every question with kindness and thorough competence.

The rav told me that as he learned each section of Shulhan Aruch as a young man, he also learned the skills needed to carry out what he was learning. Writing, slaughtering, whatever it was. He told me I should do the same. Sadly, I didn’t follow his advice on that.

When I was preparing to be married, I started learning the laws of Nidah, as many yeshivah student grooms-to-be do. Rav Eliyahu had been giving classes to local women on the topic, which were summarized and printed in popular yet authoritative pamphlets by his son. (Later, this became the book Darkei Taharah.) When I asked the rav what we would do if there were specific questions in our new home about stains, etc. he said, bring me every question you have, and I will show you what to do with it. And so, much like King David in his time, he did for me and many others in the neighborhood.

I recall one time going to the rav with a question. He answered in his usual succinct manner. I asked for clarification. He replied. I raised an objection. He dealt with it. I questioned his answer further. He answered. Finally, he said to me, look, you don’t have to do what I say. You asked me a matter of halachah. I told you what I think is the correct answer. When you get to the heavenly court, they will ask you to defend your actions; but they won’t ask you why you didn’t listen to me. You ask. I answer. But the responsibility is yours. For me, this was a great lesson in retaining my sense of answerability and responsibility. The rav could instruct me; but I couldn’t pass the buck. We each kept our own weight of responsibility in the rav-talmid interaction.

Israel mourns tonight. The Eliyahu household mourns; may Hashem comfort them among all the mourners of Zion. But also, in many anonymous homes like mine, countless unknown individuals are mourning the loss of a great, giant of Torah who yet was the rav of the whoever came to him, myself included. The ship has lost its captain. I have lost my rav.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of Blessed Memory

Rav Noach Weinberg

One of my best friends called me this morning at 6:30 AM to say the Hebrew words that translate: “Blessed is the True Judge”:

We write these words with great sadness and disbelief — our beloved Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Noach Yisrael Noach ben Yitzchak Mattisyahu Weinberg – passed away this morning, Feb 5/ Shevat 11.

“Reb Noach” changed my life more than any other person. We were not very close, but in many important respects he was like a father to me. He was the founder of the Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies, as it’s called officially, otherwise known simply as “Aish HaTorah” or “Aish.” Aish is a system of educational programs, including a full-blown yeshiva for students of all levels in Jerusalem as well as introductory and outreach programs throughout the world based on the premise of getting Jews back to Judaism.

I attended one such program, in Israel, after I emerged from college in 1985 as a puffy purposeless preppy who at least had the good sense to look for meaning, direction and truth. I was a little disappointed to realize, as I did, that Aish HaTorah was actually the vanguard of a whole “movement” — I didn’t want to be part of a movement; I just wanted to move. But I did move, and Aish helped move me, and what I learned and became and, in no small measure, what I left behind have made my life what it is today in virtually every positive aspect of it.

I was not young enough, or at least not in Aish early enough in my life, to be a close student, much less any kind of disciple, of R’ Noach. I don’t think I could have, anyway. I don’t believe we were simpatico that way. But still, personally, R’ Noach taught me plenty. He taught me how to live a life of resolute meaning, how to focus ambition on something greater than oneself, and how to give and give and give.

And though R’ Noach was sick, and I had been anticipating this day for years, and even had a premonition of his passing yesterday, I am very, very sad.

Ron and Rav Noach

And when I found the picture above I realized that I loved R’ Noach more than I perhaps understood until just now; and when I found the next picture in my scrapbook, of him warmly kissing my then-young children as if they were his own (for they were), I understood this even more, and even harder; and I let myself feel and admit that I miss him far more than I ever thought I would when I anticipated this moment, even already.

Originally posted here.

There will be a hesped for Rabbi Weinberg, delivered by Gedolei Yisroel, on Sunday Feb. 8th at 8pm

Yeshiva Ohr Yitzchok
1214 East 15th St. between L & M
Brooklyn, NY
A Woman’s seating section will be available