Rabbi Yaakov Rajchenbach z”l — reflections on a legend
Photo: Telshe Yeshiva of Chicago
I’ve just left Reb Yaakov’s levayah, and I must admit, I’ve never cried on Tishah B’Av like I cried today. It was as if the Eibeshter wanted to give us a small understanding of what we should be feeling. While I feel decidedly inadequate to write this tribute — I’m neither a family member nor a business partner, simply a fellow Chicagoan — I can still attest that while I may not have been one of Reb Yaakov’s greatest friends, he was one of my greatest inspirations.
The word I keep hearing over and over again is “legend.” A legend transcends time and generations. It crosses borders and blurs age gaps. It’s a word used as a universal acknowledgment of greatness. Rabbi Yaakov Rajchenbach was a legend.
Over the next few months, we’ll surely hear more. We’ll hear about his genuine care for all members of Klal Yisrael, and the myriads of chasadim that he did. We’ll hear how he never turned down a nitzrach, and how he despised the word “meshulach.” We’ll hear about the third floor of his house, dedicated to hachnassas orchim, which was occupied almost every day.
We’ll hear how there isn’t a mosad of Torah and chesed in Chicago that doesn’t have his imprint on it. We’ll hear how much he valued bnei Torah, raising up their stature. Bochurim fundraising on Purim knew that at the Rajchenbach home, they would be treated in princely fashion. All of Chicago’s bnei Torah know that the foundation of the city’s respect for Torah and those who learn it was laid by Rabbi Yaakov Rajchenbach. He was at the front lines of the mission to raise the stature of yungeleit, continuously sponsoring new initiatives for yungeleit and mechanchim, and today, Chicago’s avreichim walk around with a pride and a dignity that simply wasn’t there 30 years ago.
Reb Yaakov lived two worlds, and seemed to bridge them seamlessly. He was respected and loved by the greatest gedolim and roshei yeshivah, and just as admired and respected in the secular corporate world as well. He earned the trust of gedolim through his total subordination to their word, his complete submission to the Divine clarity of daas Torah. He was known for his keen understanding and inquisitive mind, which made him so successful in business, but he completely negated his own daas to that of the gedolim.
His many business partners and associates from over the years can’t think of any negative interaction, decision, or gripe in all their years working together. His yashrus was unwavering, and he would walk away from million-dollar deals to avoid machlokes. A walking kiddush Hashem, he was revered throughout Chicago as the paradigm of what a Torahdig balabos should be.
But perhaps Reb Yaakov’s greatest legacy is that he prepared for the day when he would no longer be here to lead us personally. He made sure there would be those ready to step into his shoes. His mishpachah embodies everything he represented. His chashuve wife was not just a partner in what he did, but a facilitator. Together, they made their home into a beis vaad l’chachamim, together they raised children who are a credit to their parents. All his accomplishments notwithstanding, if you had asked Reb Yaakov, he would have told you that his crowning achievement is the generations he established. They reflect everything that he was, and they are a product of everything he lived.
His legacy isn’t contained only to his family. He gave generation of balabatim rigorous training by the greatest mentor in his field. The countless balabatim who have followed in the path he forged will all tell you the same thing. He was the master. He was the image they always had in front of them. He led by example, but he also taught actively when needed. And in perhaps his greatest gift to the community, as accomplished as he was, and as respected as he was, he let others lead, giving them valuable experience. For the last twenty years he was actively teaching, molding, and preparing a new cohort of leaders who will be able to carry the torch that he lit, and who will strive to follow the example that he set.
Reb Yaakov, you have moved on to the Next World, but you will forever be our legend.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 923)
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