Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Remembering the Rosh Yeshiva

The Jewish world suffered another shock earlier this week with the news of the passing of Rav Noson Tzvi Finkel, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim.

Under his tutelage, "the Mir" continued to grow and expand, its ranks swelling until it became the largest yeshiva in the world. A bastion of Torah learning and values, the Mir offers a place for literally anyone looking for somewhere to learn - ranging from newly minted ba'alei teshuva to bachurim who as of yet haven't been accepted into Brisk, and everyone in between. While some criticized the Rosh Yeshiva's open-door policy, others viewed it as a natural expression of his dedication to the yeshiva - and those who learned there.

Indeed, despite the fact that the Rosh Yeshiva suffered from a debilitating disease, when it came to matters concerning the yeshiva and the b'nei hayeshiva, he spared no effort. Even as he grew progressively weaker, he maintained his schedule of shiurim to the best of his abilities, and continued to travel far and wide on behalf of the yeshiva's needs.

I remember the first time I met the Rosh Yeshiva. It was chol hamo'ed Succos, and my family was in the Holy Land for the holiday. My older brothers - both Mir talmidim - went to the Rosh Yeshiva's house to pay him a visit in his Sukkah. I tagged along with them, out of curiosity.

I was in high school, and going through a difficult time; I was in the market to transfer to a new yeshiva, but I had no idea where I was going, or what to look for in a new yeshiva.

When we came to the Finkel home, we were led upstairs to the sukkah, where the Rosh Yeshiva was greeting visitors. I had never seen him before, so at first his erratic movements frightened me, but I got over it. My brothers spoke with him for a while, and then introduced me. He asked me where I was learning, and we spoke for a minute or two, at which point one of my brothers interjected "And one day, he'll come here, too!"

The Rosh Yeshiva nodded, looked straight at me, and said "We're waiting for you!"

I was taken aback. In my experience, prospective yeshivos made you feel like they were doing you a favor, by allowing you to come to them to benefit from what they had to offer, leaving you in a position of indebtedness. When I would mention that I was considering applying to a certain yeshiva, invariably the representative of that yeshiva would say something to the effect of "Well, what are you waiting for?!" That arrogance was something that I was looking to get away from.

Rav Noson Tzvi's comment was the exact opposite of what I had encountered up until that point. His response was that of a person looking to serve others; someone who wanted to offer whatever he could to help someone, while at the same time giving the impression that it was the recipient who was in fact doing the "favor".

I will never forget that kindness. It lifted me, filling me with a sense of value, but more importantly it showed me exactly what to look for in my next yeshiva.

Z'chuso Yagein Aleinu!

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