Venerable individuals still among us share their recollections of personal encounters with yesteryear's giants
Rabbi Nota Greenblatt
Eyes that saw Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook
Renowned as a rabbi and posek, Rav Nota Greenblatt of Memphis, Tennessee, has had his fair share of travels throughout his long life. Along the way, he has met numerous luminaries, accumulating enough stories to fill a few volumes. While still in the United States, he studied in Boston for a few years in a short-lived yeshivah run by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. His chavrusa was the Brisker Rav’s future son-in-law Rav Michel Feinstein. “Not one shiur passed that Rav Soloveitchik didn’t quote his grandfather Rav Chaim Brisker. He lived it.” Later as a teenager in Israel in the postwar years, he had the opportunity to meet Rav Yitzchak Zev (Velvel) Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav, on several occasions in his home.
But there’s a childhood encounter that’s particularly luminous, and it is this one we ask him to share.
Rav Nota’s father, Rav Yitzchak Greenblatt, was a native of Brisk, and traveled to the United States to fundraise on behalf of the local Toras Chesed Yeshivah. He subsequently assumed a rabbinical position in Washington, D.C., where his son Nota was born, before assuming a position in Ellenville, New York.
In an extremely unusual decision for that time, he decided to move his entire family to Eretz Yisrael in 1930, where they settled in Jerusalem. Shortly afterward, the six-year-old Nota fell ill.
Rav Yitzchak took his young son to the city’s rabbi, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook, to receive his blessing for a speedy recovery. The door opened, and Rav Nota saw Rav Kook sitting at his table wearing his tallis and tefillin, as was his custom.
“Rav Kook lifted me up, placed me on his lap and put me underneath his tallis,” Rav Nota paints the scene. “Then, when I looked up, I gazed directly into the tzaddik’s face.”
Rav Kook, who was a Kohein, proceeded to place his hands on the boy’s head and bless him with Bircas Kohanim. He then silently davened for a few minutes that Nota merit a complete recovery from his illness.
“He also gave me a brachah for arichus yamim. I’ll let you decide if it’s been fulfilled,” Reb Nota adds with a twinkle in his eye.
Shortly thereafter the family returned to the United States where his father took up another rabbinical position, this time in Newark, New Jersey. With the coming years, Rav Nota would get to know leaders like Rav Dovid Leibowitz, and he’d become one of the closest students of Rav Moshe Feinstein and many others. But that moment as a child sitting on Rav Kook’s lap is embedded in a special place in his memory.
Do you have a candidate for a future segment of “Eyes That Saw Angels”? Email us at Fortherecord@mishpacha.com.
With thanks to Rabbi Efrem and Rebbetzin Yocheved Goldberg, Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, Rabbi Nachman Seltzer, Moishe Tabak, Ari Giver, Moshe Benoliel, Moishe Schindler of Mint Media, Feivel Schneider, Jacob Djmal, Shlomo Reichmann, Rabbis Avishai Taharani, and Yehuda Attieh.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 854)
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