ow does an observant Jew go about helping a nonobservant Jew to become religious? And why is it such an imperative of our times?
Sitting directly across the table from me as I pose these questions is Rav Noach Weinberg, who in all probability is the most successful Rosh Yeshivah in the kiruv world during the past two generations. The questions are short. Yet the answers I receive during the subsequent ninety minutes of riveting conversation is the sum total of the Rosh Yeshivah’s accumulated wisdom and experience, including of course the Divine inspiration he has been granted, in handling much tougher questions than the ones I asked.
In trademark style, the Rosh Yeshivah answers with a parable, mixed with a personal story to illustrate.
On his arrival in Eretz Yisrael as an American yeshivah bochur, in a tan suit and white straw hat — “even Rav Hutner wore a blue suit and a white hat in those days,” says Rav Weinberg — he developed a close relationship with some older nephews, from his father’s first marriage, who were already living in Israel. In deference to their age, Rav Weinberg treated them with the respect due to one’s elders. In due time, he earned their respect in return.
“When I started making baalei teshuvah, they came to me and said: ‘Noach, what’s going on? There were big rebbeim that said they should put on their kever a sign that they’ve made five or ten baalei teshuvah. You’re making hundreds, thousands of baalei teshuvah? We knew you well back then … what’s going on? How’d you do it?’
“I told them: when you walked in Yerushalayim, especially in those days, there were derricks all over the place. There still are. So the derrick picks up a truckload of bricks and moves it. And then there’s a guy standing there and he pushes the load to the right place. The tipesh [fool] takes a look. He sees this guy pushing a truckload of bricks and says this guy is Shimshon HaGibor. The chacham takes a look and he sees the derrick has moved them.
“The Rambam says in the end of days, Am Yisrael is going to do teshuvah. The Ribono Shel Olam is the derrick and the derrick is moving. The chacham puts his hands underneath and pushes. The tipesh says: ‘How do you do it?’”$$separate$$
Rav Weinberg looks me squarely in the eyes.
“Do you get it?”
When Rav Weinberg speaks, it is hard not to get it, as many thousands of his talmidim across the world can testify to.
It is not by chance that Yeshivas Aish HaTorah, in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, overlooks forty percent of the frontage facing the Kosel and Har HaBayis, the holiest place on earth, where a Jew can actualize his deepest, inner yearnings to draw closer to his Creator. It is an honor derived from the leading role Aish has taken in building baalei teshuvah and disseminating Torah worldwide. Founded in 1974, Aish HaTorah now has twenty-six branches on five continents. More than 100,000 Jews from all walks of life attend Aish HaTorah programs each year and yeshivah officials estimate its website, host to some 2,000 Torah lectures, draws two million visits per month.
Aish’s new beis medrash is a far cry from its humble beginnings in a four-room apartment on Misgav Ladach Street in the Old City. Reb Yehudah Paley, father of Mishpacha’s publisher Eli Paley, joined our conversation and before Rav Weinberg entered, began reminiscing about the days when the Paley family lived on the same floor, in the same building that housed Aish’s cramped surroundings.
“The beis medrash was in one room, the beis knesses was in a second room, and the last two rooms served as the dining room and dormitory, which was just a room with some beds,” says Reb Paley.
As he relates the story, Rav Weinberg enters the room. We all rise in his honor, and Reb Paley continues his story.
“At that time, I had a chavrusa with Rav Mendel Weinbach [Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Somayach],” adds Reb Paley. “Once, when Rav Noach entered the room, Rav Weinbach said [respectfully]: ‘The baal hachalomos [the dreamer] is here.’”
Rav Weinberg gets obvious pleasure from the recollection and does not shy away in the slightest from the “honorary title” of baal hachalomos.
“When I started in kiruv,” says Rav Weinberg, “people would point with their finger and say: Rabbi Noach, the meshugeneh. The dreamer. When you start something new everybody says you’re crazy. When you’re halfway successful they say: I knew it all along. You know when you’re really successful? When they say: I can do it better than you. Do you get it? Baruch Hashem, today they all know how to do it better than me.”
But Rav Weinberg is much more than a dreamer. He is a warrior, says Reb Paley.
“And in war, you don’t do business as usual. You put on your uniform and go out to battle.”
If Rav Weinberg is one of Hashem’s five-star generals in His kiruv army, then in the Rosh Yeshivah’s eyes, we all need to enlist, at least at the rank of Private.
“We are all obligated. I have always tried to get the frum olam to take responsibility. Finally the atmosphere is such that it is going to work,” contends Rav Weinberg. “We have developed a new program which we call “The Sleeping Giant,” to teach people to do kiruv. We’re trying to get people to understand it’s the simplest thing in the world.”
Not everyone can be a kiruv expert or professional. How can the average Jew help?
“Ask any college kid: What’s your parents’ greatest pleasure? What do they answer? They say: Me. They know that they’re their parents’ greatest pleasure.
“Then I ask them: What’s your parents’ greatest pain?
“You know what they say? Me.
“Then I ask: Are you going to have children?
“They say: Sure.
“How many children are you going to have? Two, they say.
“Why not ten, I ask? Oh no, they say.
“What — too much pleasure, I ask, or too much pain? They get the point. They don’t know their pleasure. “I say: If I came to your parents and I offered them $50 million if they would never see you again for the rest of your life, would they take it? No. After they’ve turned down $50 million in cash, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to follow you around and say … $50 million … what do I see in this kid — and they’ll realize they’re not getting their money’s worth.
“You’ve got to learn how to enjoy love. Do you get it? That’s what the Almighty came to teach us. We have a commandment; love your neighbor as yourself. Everybody likes that commandment and they haven’t the faintest idea what they’re talking about. I ask people, what’s love? They have no idea. They answer: You can’t define love.
“I’ll say: I’ll show you that you have a definition of how you define love. You’re just too lazy to get a hold of it. Do you want to see?
“They repeat: You can’t define love.
“I say: I’ll show you. Do you love your father? Yes. Do you love your Mom? Yes.
“Do you love your brother? Yes. Do you love your sister? Yes. Do you love the policeman who gave you a ticket? No. Do you love the mechanic that ripped you off? No.
“Tell me, I add, “do you bafustik your father?”
“He says: What’s that?
“Just tell me, do you or don’t you?
“How can I tell you? I don’t know what you’re talking about.
“Ah, but you love your father? So you know what I’m talking about? You say my father, yes; the policeman, no. You’re just too lazy to spit it out. You’re too lazy to figure out what it is that you mean.”
Is it laziness, or is it more the fact that they just never thought about it or no one ever trained them?
“But they should. The Torah gives us the definition. This we can teach you. It’s a big chiddush to people, you understand? A healthy person has got two eyes, a nose, some teeth left, a chin, two ears, eyebrows, eyelashes, yes? Yet you’re not going to mistake one face with another. How come? Proportion.
“Every human being wants to be happy. We’re pleasure seekers from when we’re born until we die. Everybody is exactly the same. It’s just proportion – how we’re put together — that’s different. That’s why the Torah is for everyone. Truth is for everyone. That’s what we can share. The Torah teaches us how. It’s something that everybody can do. I try to get people to take the responsibility to do it.”
But isn’t this better left for professionals to carry on these conversations?
“No. Everyone has to. You’re at work, you see a chiloni, nonobservant Jew. He’s looking at you and saying: You think that G-d cares about your eating kosher? He’s saying to you, you’re a dumbbell; who taught you that? G-d can’t possibly care about that.
“You know how we answer him back? We tell him: the Torah taught us that He cares. Why does he tell us what to do? Not to force something on us, but for our own good. You tell your children brush your teeth, and your children answer, ‘but Daddy, no one sees my teeth, and anyway, they’re clean. So why do they brush them anyway? They do it for their own good. Every father gives his children instructions. If you love someone, you try to teach them how to live. We call G-d our Father in Heaven. He teaches us how to live.”
I’ve heard nonobservant Jews say what’s most important to them is that observant Jews relate to them and care about them as people, and that they resent being looked at as if they are the next conquest for our kiruv trophy case, so to speak.
“It’s two different things. The first, most important aspect in kiruv is from a gemara in Rosh HaShanah. It says that Koresh [King Cyrus of Persia] was a melech kosher, a righteous king. He allowed the Beis HaMikdash to be rebuilt. In the end he became a rashah. The gemara says, why did he become a rashah? Because he sent korbanos to the Beis HaMikdash and he asked them to pray for the king’s life and his children. So the gemara says, so what’s wrong with that? The Gemara says a Jew who gives tzedakah so that his son should live is called a tzaddik gamor [completely righteous] and doesn’t even have regret over what he gave if the child dies. He’s happy he gave the tzedakah because really he wants to do good, except the taivos [human desires] sometimes interfere.
“A goy who gives tzedakah so that his son will live has regrets if his son dies. So the question is, so what? So he’s not doing it from ahavah, from love? Is a Ben Noach obligated in ahavas Hashem? He has his seven mitzvos. He’s not obligated in ahavas Hashem. It’s the Jew who is obligated in ahavas Hashem.
“So back to Koresh. Why was he a rashah? You know why he’s a rashah? Because if you think that you’re doing something for the Ribono shel Olam by giving Him a korban, you’re an apikores. You don’t believe in G-d. Do you get that? That’s the first thing you’ve got to teach in kiruv.
“When you said before that you’ve got to be warm and friendly, that’s in order for them to listen. The Rambam says in Hilchos Tochachah [the laws of rebuke] you’ve got to reassure a guy, I love you. I do it for your benefit. I’m on your side. I’ve got nothing against you. But that’s not the tochachah. That’s just so they’ll listen to you. But what is it that you’ve got to teach? You’ve got to teach that there’s a Ribono shel Olam Who loves you. And there’s nothing you can do for Him. You get it?”
So the next logical question the person may ask is if there’s nothing I can do for Him, why should I serve Him?
“I’ll give you a million dollars. There’s nothing you can do for me in return. Do you want to take it? G-d created the world for you and He taught you how to use it. You don’t want it? Too bad man.”
The person can still say I can use my own judgment and decide for myself what’s right.
“Yes, like people who get drunk or get on drugsThey make their own judgments too. Do they do it because they think it’s good for them? They know it’s not good for them, but they feel like it. They don’t care. They’ll get married and get divorced.The divorce rate in America is fifty percent, yes? You want to get married, I ask students? Everybody wants to get married, right? You want to get a divorce? No, not me. Why not you? I don’t plan to.
“If you’re going to get into trouble, you’re going to go to a counselor to try to work it out? Doesn’t it make sense to find out beforehand? You know we Jews have been marrying a long time. We have a little understanding about it. That’s why we come to a yeshivah. To learn these things. We have a Torah. Let’s see what we’ve got to say about marriage.
“One in two get a divorce. It’s a tragedy. They don’t understand what’s going on. Because everybody knows the greatest pleasure is their children. When they got married, they were madly in love. They’re celebrating, euphoric, yes? Come back in ten years, they’ve got three kids and they’re killing each other. She’s a witch. He’s a monster. What happened? They fell in love with the kids and they fell out of love with themselves. What’s going on? They don’t understand.
“The very fact that you say to any college student, ‘What’s your parents’ greatest pleasure?” and they say: their children, that’s a tragedy. Because the Torah teaches us what’s the greatest pleasure.
“What should they answer? Even our Torah Jews don’t know. Do you know what they should answer? Each other. The greatest ahavah is a husband and wife for each other. Ask any married man, are you miserable when your wife is miserable? Sure, and he should be. Now, does he ever make her miserable? How foolish if he does, he’s only making himself miserable. Ask any woman, when your husband is miserable, do you feel miserable? Of course. Does a wife ever make her husband miserable? Of course she does. They know they do. Couples will accomplish much more if they make each other happy.”
Unfortunately we are experiencing the same problems in the chareidi community now. Maybe they’re not as severe but, they’re present. So is this our strongest selling point right now?
“That’s because we’re not listening to the Torah. We can teach you how to have a happy marriage. You’ve got to know what it’s about. The Torah tells us. You know what the Ribono shel Olam wants from us? Our pleasure. You know what you want from your wife? You’re like the Ribono shel Olam and the woman is mankind. Do you know that? Do you know what you want from your wife? Do you know what you want from your kids? Their pleasure. Do you know what you want from your wife? Really you want her pleasure. Only you don’t know how to give it to her. You get it? We can teach you how.”
Going the Extra Mile
Even in his earliest years, the Rosh Yeshivah’s koach has manifested itself in the ability to attract baalei teshuvah, worldwide, who after short, but powerful conversations, reconfigured their lives in a major fashion in a relatively short period of time. To paraphrase from Rebbe Tarfon in Pirkei Avos, the day is short and the work is long. We may not be able to complete it ourselves, but that is certainly no excuse not to start.
One of the Rosh Yeshivah’s first “big-name” successes was Rabbi Saul Zneimer, who served as a congregational rabbi and then served for many years as chief executive of the United Synagogue, an organization of Orthodox synagogues in England. When he first encountered Rav Weinberg, he was having trials for a team in English soccer’s first division, and had played international schoolboy rugby. Rav Weinberg’s fledgling yeshivah was the spark that ignited his Jewish neshamah and he decided to give up a possible career in the world of sports to study at Aish HaTorah.
“His parents were very upset at first, and after a while they came to visit,” recalls Reb Paley. “Rav Noach didn’t have much money at the time, but for their visit, we got hold of the best furniture we could — a nice table and chairs — and even set the table with a fine tablecloth so that his parents would feel at home.”
Reached in England, Rabbi Zneimer recalls: “Rav Noach’s true genius lay in presenting the challenge of Yiddishkeit as an intellectual one for those ‘seeking truth,’ alongside creating an emotionally rich experience of Jewish life both inside and out of the beis medrash. It was his unique approach that made me sit up and listen.”
On another occasion, a prospective student expressed his regrets to Rav Weinberg that he could not extend his stay because his return trip ticket was not exchangeable and also nonrefundable.
“Rav Noach told him you have to stay here and do teshuvah,” says Reb Paley.
“I’ll lose my ticket,” he replied.
“Call your travel agent,” advised Rav Weinberg. “If you find you really can’t change your flight, I’ll pay for your ticket back. The fellow was so impressed he decided to stay and do teshuvah and today he is one of Aish’s biggest donors,” says Reb Paley.
The One that Got Away
There’s a story I heard about the Rosh Yeshivah that you were once on a plane with one of the Beach Boys and had an interesting conversation with him. Can you tell us about it?
“Yes,” with a wry smile. “I once was out fundraising and a supporter from the early days, Chaim Gross, a lawyer in Detroit, asked me how I was traveling. I was going to California from Detroit and told him I was planning on traveling coach. He said no, he’s going to get me a first-class ticket. So he got me a first-class ticket. It was the first time I was ever in first class. I’m sitting next to a guy, and all the stewardesses are coming over asking him for his autograph.
“I have no idea who he is. So I asked him: Who are you? So he said: I’m from the Beach Boys. I said: What’s that? I had no idea what a Beach Boy was. He said: What are you talking about? You don’t know the Beach Boys? I said: No. I don’t know.
We’re famous, he says. Everybody wants my signature.
“I said: Wow. I didn’t know. Pardon me.
“He said: What do you do? I said: I teach wisdom. He said: What’s that? So I started teaching him a little wisdom. So he says: What are you doing on the flight to LA?
I said: I’m raising money. He said: Your problems are over. You come and stay with me. Tomorrow morning I’ll get you however much money you need. I’ll raise you ten million dollars, like that.”
“So okay, I went with him. It was late at night when we got there. I talked to him a little more, then I went to sleep.
“But that night he stayed up all night, at a music jam and slept late the next day. So what was I going to do? Am I going to wait for the guy to wake up? I don’t know. I had some students there in LA. We already had a branch there, and I call them up and ask them to pick me up. I left my numbers with him and I tried calling him up, but he never got back to me.”
The Sleeping Giant
Once a visionary, always a visionary. Rav Weinberg will never stop seeking new opportunities to disseminate the teshuvah message to the Jewish people. But that’s not the only crucial message that he wants to get across.
This is an era of unprecedented danger in the world at large, and Jews feel every bit of it. To say that the Rosh Yeshivah feels very strongly that achdus and Jews pitching in for each other would be a giant step forward toward solving these problems would be a vast understatement. We can see this clearly by the following question, which started out innocently, but ended in a wide-ranging discussion of the ills the Rosh Yeshivah perceives as afflicting the Jewish people today.
If the Rosh Yeshivah had to make a new five-year plan for kiruv, what would it look like?
“We have a new project. We call it the Sleeping Giant. We’re trying to get Jews, like you, to take the responsibility.”
In what ways?
“You tell me. I’ll ask you three questions. Can you think of one nation in the whole world that would have a city bombed for one day, that wouldn’t go to war to protect their citizens? No. What’s happened to the Jewish people? We stood up for one Jew in Russia, Mendel Beylus. We stood up for Soviet Jewry. What’s happened to us? Where are we?
“These people misled us with Oslo. It will be good. It will be good. You know how to boil a frog? You know what you do? You put it in cold water and you turn on a little fire. Then you make it a little warmer, a little warmer, a little warmer until you cook it. That’s what they did to us. That we allow children to be terrorized and we don’t do anything; we stand by? There’s no nation in the whole world that would do that. You get it?
“The second question is, do you know one nation in the whole world that would be bombed for one day, and if they went to war, wouldn’t have full international backing? Of course not! You protect your citizens. If we go to war, then the United States, the UN, and the Jews will be on our back. Jews are against us now because we’re defending ourselves. What’s going on? What does that mean? We’ve got to get people to understand what it means. It means they went us dead, like in Auschwitz, and they don’t want us to yell too loud. You get it?
“Third question. Can you think of one nation in the whole world that would be bombed for even one day that would continue to give the bombers fuel to bomb us, money to buy bombs, humanitarian aid, electricity, water? Can you think of one nation? A shikseh, Merkel, the prime minister of Germany tells Olmert: What are you talking about, humanitarian aid? They’re coming to kill you. And Olmert says: But what can we do? The Supreme Court is very humanitarian-minded. It doesn’t matter that Jewish kids are living in terror day in and day out; maybe, G-d forbid an Arab child may be hurt so we can’t do a thing. What does that mean to you? Do you know what it means? We’re being led by judenrat who want to lead us to the slaughter. So now what does it add up to?
Who are we relying on? You’ve got to understand this. You, and you, and you, and me, we’re responsible. You think the responsibility is the government’s?”
How do we assume responsibility for an international issue that appears to be completely beyond our control?
“My friend, you know what Mordechai HaTzaddik says to Queen Esther? Go to the king and tell him to annul the decree. So she says: Look, everybody knows, if you go into the king without being invited, it’s a death sentence. Suicide. I’m out of favor. I won’t accomplish anything. So Mordechai says: Listen. If you keep quiet the Jewish people are going to be saved without you. But you and your father’s house will be destroyed.
“So you’ve got to ask: what’s Mordechai saying to Esther? The Jewish people are going to be saved anyway, so why should she commit suicide? What’s he saying? He’s talking to all of us. Do you know why we’re not making a Vaad Hatazlah? Because we’re all saying: the Ribono shel Olam is going to save Am Yisrael, not me.
“And you’re right, He will, but it’s no excuse. We have to look at it as if it’s my job. Do you get it? That’s what’s wrong with us. What would you do if there’s another Holocaust? In Germany, there were individual Jews who made a Vaad Hatzalah that saved Weissmandel, that sent care packages. You do what you can. You undertake. You make a plan. You’re just standing there? They’re coming to kill you. So Olmert’s going to give back the West Bank. What’s going to be? The Ribono shel Olam is going to save us. You’re right. But at what cost? You understand? Am Yisrael is netzach, eternal. I ask you: If Esther didn’t go, what would we have lost?”
The Megillah says: Esther and her family?
“Purim. That’s what we would have lost. Purim. Kimu v’kiblu [where we re-accepted the Torah] and the recognition of hester panim; that the Ribono shel Olam is always with us. If we do what the Ribono shel Olam wants us to do, then we’re going to bring the Geulah. We don’t know how? Who knows how to do anything? You learn how.
“So that’s my five-year-plan, only I want to do it in half a year. Get guys like you to take the responsibility.”
Tachlis, to do what?
“If I show you what we can do – one idea — are you on the team?”
Yes. Yes I am.
“It’s very simple. We have a website up already, and we start with a simple thing like Gilad Shalit. Put Barghouti [jailed Arab terrorist] and Shalit on the website. Barghouti is making speeches. He’s a grosse mensch? No one knows where Shalit is. You want Shalit home? Put Barghouti in solitary confinement so he can’t speak to anyone. The Red Cross will come and say: “What are you doing?” You say: Give us Shalit. What, we have got to treat Barghouti like royalty because the Red Cross is going to complain that he’s in solitary confinement?”
Why wouldn’t we try to solve some of our community problems closer to home before we try to deal with major international issues?
“So let me explain to you. This is killing us. Look at the Jews. We are going on vacation when they’re shooting Jews. Jews are terrorized and we’re going on vacation. They’re boiling the frog. You can do it all with e-mail. You make telephone calls. Call [Israel’s] Channel Two every Monday night.”
People in America did that for a while with Jonathan Pollard and unfortunately, Jonathan Pollard is still sitting in jail? .
“The Jews are a small minority in America. The average American doesn’t care about Jonathan Pollard. All of Israel cares about Shalit. Every Jew cares about him. Can it work if we get 10,000 people on it and then they see that mamash, it makes a difference? If we get 250,000 Israelis on an e-mail list, you can boycott Ma’ariv [a left-wing newspaper]. You can knock these guys down.
“Ninety-five percent of the Jews here know that they’re being led to the slaughter. And they say: What can we do? We have to show them what you can do.”
But doesn’t the Rosh Yeshivah feel that chinuch matters in our own community demand the greater part of our attention?
“Neshamaleh, if you go on vacation while our brothers are being slaughtered, if you’re telling them you rely on Tzahal [the IDF] and that they know what they’re doing, or if you’re telling them you just stand by while they’re giving back Jerusalem, what kind of chinuch are you giving them? Not to think? What chinuch? Not to be a chayim, living? This is the future of Am Yisrael.”
There are some who hold the opinion that it is permissible al pi halachah to trade land for peace. They ask what the problem can be in giving neighborhoods like Shuafat to Arabs that already are populated by Arabs anyway?
“Give them Shuafat? Then they’re going to kill us here in Har Nof. We’re dead. Rav Elyashiv has said we are facing a grave danger. Rav Aharon Leib Steinman says make a passport in case you have to run. There’s no question. Anybody who opens his eyes sees it. Come on. So we’re going to ignore it and say we’re giving them chinuch?”
I want to ask the Rosh Yeshivah, as we’re coming up to Shavuos, zman matan Toraseinu: We’re taught that the Torah is supposed to be as fresh and as meaningful to us as the day that it was given. So how do we, this Shavuos, make the avodah of this day meaningful to us and as fresh as it was over 3,000 years ago?
“You know what you’re supposed to say on Shavuos? What do we say on Shavuos? What changed the world? Naaseh v’nishmah, we will do and we will hear. Do you know what our olam is saying? Nishmah v’naaseh. Do you hear the difference? ‘Undertake. Then you’ll understand how to do it.’
“The Chofetz Chaim says by the Mishkan, the Ribono shel Olam gave chachmah to those who undertook to do. So if somebody says, I’m going to know how to make a leining, the Ribono shel Olam helps him to make a leining. Somebody says, I’m going to know Mishnah Berurah, he’ll know Mishnah Berurah. Somebody says, I’m going to know a mesechta, he’ll know a mesechta. Somebody says, I’ll learn Shas, he knows Shas.
“Just undertake and the Ribono shel Olam gives you. How am I going to do it? You do it. The Chofetz Chaim says this applies to everything. You’re a writer. You know in the end you’re going to write. So write. You knew you were going to make a living. You’re making a magazine. You knew what was going to be? You tried. I started Aish HaTorah. I started five yeshivos. You try and the Ribono shel Olam gives it to you. But naaseh? Don’t sit there. Then you’ll know. You get it?
“Some day I’ll know how to love G-d and I’ll love Him. You want to love G-d? You say it every day. Do you really want to love G-d? It’s very simple. The Chinuch says to let it enter your heart every day; always think about it and He’s there. That’s all there is. So you have to get habituated. You do it one time, you forget it. The next day you do it twice. The third day you do it twice. The fourth day you do it ten times. At the end you get to a stage where your mind is always on the Ribono shel Olam and you feel the love of Hashem.
“Naaseh v’nishmah. The Chinuch says it. What do you have to lose? The Mishnah Berurah says every time you think about the Ribono shel Olam you’re being mekayem a mitzvah. Every time. You get it? That’s what you do on Shavuos.”
Taking on Partners
The Rosh Yeshivah has had a very important partner in his kiruv efforts over the years — the Rebbetzin who, in her own right has established a mark at EYAHT, Aish HaTorah’s college for women. I was wondering how you’ve shared ideas with each other, and how you’ve worked with each other to sharpen the entire concept.
“I started five organizations. Whenever I saw that it was not going anywhere, I would leave town from Sunday until Friday. Once I went to Rav Mendel Weinbach, who had a yeshivah in Netanya. Another time I went to Netivot. I would go away for a week. My wife stayed behind me the whole time. She believed in what we were doing. She was an idealist.
“One time, I was sitting in a bus going to Bnei Brak, and there were two Bais Yaakov girls from America. There didn’t seem to be any other Americans on the bus, so they asked me whether I could explain something to them. So I explained it to them. Then they said, I wish we had somebody like you to teach us. So I said, you know what? I’ll get my wife to teach you.
“So I taught my wife and she taught them. And she has become a greater teacher than me. She really gets to kids, you know. I get to them and they say: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense, then they forget me. They don’t forget her. She does the job.”
Going back to the early days, the Rosh Yeshivah mentioned that many years ago people thought the concept of kiruv was a little off the wall. Were there gedolim who were supportive of your kiruv efforts in those years, and can you tell us who?
“You know, I learned two years in the Mir as a bochur. I started my first yeshivah — for secular guys — when I settled in Yerushalayim. I wanted to teach them Torah. According to halachah, if you learn in a yeshivah, that’s your Rebbe and you’re supposed to ask a sheilah. You’re supposed to get permission. So I went to Reb Leizer Yudel [Finkel] and I asked him, I want permission to start a yeshivah in Jerusalem.. So he said: What do you want to do? What kind of yeshivah? So I told him. For Americans.
“What kind of Americans?
“Secular. They don’t believe in anything.
“So why are they going to learn?
“I said: I’ll show them why they should learn.
“He said: But why would they learn? Okay, so you’re going to give them yiras Shamayim, but he didn’t understand what I wanted to do. Finally he got it. It dawned on him. He said: Noach [in Yiddish] I got it. I know what you want to do. You want to start a factory to turn out baalei teshuvah. He said to me: you went crazy. He told me, you’re meshugah.
So I told him: Rebbi, Chazal say the Jews are tzemayim, thirsty to do the will of their Creator. They’re thirsty for Torah. If I give a guy a drink of water is he going to leave me? He’s not going to leave me. So he says: If you believe that, you’ll succeed. He gave me a brachah.”
And Rav Hutner, another Rosh Yeshivah of yours?
Rav Hutner gave me advice. But that was after I was already working. He said three things. Don’t expect any hakaras tov, don’t talk about Gehinnom — they don’t like to hear about Gehinnom, and don’t take partners. The third piece of advice I unfortunately didn’t listen too and I suffered.
Klal Yisrael is concerned about the Rosh Yeshivah’s health and they’re davening every day for Yisrael Noach ben Hinda. Can the Rosh Yeshivah update us on his progress?
“It’s amazing. Baruch Hashem. Harbeh Yehudim [Many Jews] Harbeh Tefillos [their many prayers]. HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Hu ozer [G-d helps]. They told me my illness was aggressive, fast, and deadly. You don’t have time. You’ve got to make fast decisions and do things. I went to America to a very prestigious cancer center. It took six weeks and the disease progressed to the point where they decided the only thing they could do was heavy chemotherapy every three weeks. I asked them, can I do it in Israel, and they said sure. So I said, why do I have to be here?
“When I came back to Eretz Yisrael I was sick. I went into the hospital. I couldn’t breathe. I had to get oxygen. Dr. Segal from Shaare Zedek decided to give me radiation after he persuaded the doctors in America that it might work.
“They did radiation in Hadassah. Four days after the fullest treatment I started coughing up blood. The doctor told me if you cough up blood, go immediately into the hospital. So I called him up. He’s a very nice guy. He says, what kind of blood is it? I said it’s tissues. He says that’s great news. It means it’s breaking up the tumor in the lung and allowing the lung to expand. I was able to get rid of the oxygen and breathe normally, which gave me strength.
“In four days this started breaking up. Six days later I didn’t need oxygen. Which means it’s an altogether different ball park and now I am getting my strength back. Mamash, chasdei Hashem, it’s the tefillos. We can only rely on Hashem and the people who pray for you.”
The Rosh Yeshivah is keeping up his routine?
“I’m not back to routine but I go in there [the yeshiva] every day if I can. Today I was in the hospital for chemotherapy. But whenever I can I go in. I keep it going, keep in touch, keep planning, keep moving.”
I want to thank the Rosh Yeshivah very much for all of his time and wish him a refuah sheleimah on behalf of all of our readers. Is there any last word the Rosh Yeshivah would like to add, perhaps a final thought on the state of today’s kiruv world and what is left to accomplish?
“The Brisker Rav says a vort on Yisro, Bilaam, and Iyov, who were all advisors to Pharoah [when he decreed tossing all Jewish newborn males into the water]. Yisro ran and his children ended up in the Sanhedrin. Bilaam gave advice and got killed. Iyov kept quiet and was punished with yisurim, afflictions. So the Brisker Rav asks, what’s the middah k’neged middah for Iyov?
And the Brisker Rav answers, why do you keep quiet when Jews are getting killed? Because you say it won’t do any good? So He gives you yisurim. What good does that do? When you have yisurim, you yell. If you don’t yell that means it doesn’t hurt.
“So you should cry. Cry for our brothers in Sderot. Cry for our brothers who are marching for the Palestinians. Cry for our brothers who are on drugs. Cry. Does it bother you? When Rav Chaim Shmulevitz used to come to the Mirrer and I used to daven there on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, he would say that you have to cry for the Jews who are assimilating in Russia and America and Israel. If this doesn’t bother you, he saud, then you’re an achzar, cruel. ow can you then come to the Ribono shel Olam on Yom Kippur and ask for rachmanus?”
“Three summers ago, I took my staff from the branches, and my talmidim and some of the rebbeim too, to Poland, to Auschwitz. I told them what I learned from this. The Nazis started out very primitive. They shot people. Then they found it was too difficult to bury them and they were wasting ammunition. So they dug mass graves. Even that was embarrassing to them. They made gas chambers. They made crematoria. They weren’t satisfied with inefficiently killing Jews.
“We have got to learn to be that determined to save Jews efficiently. Not just to save a Jew here and there, but efficiently. And to get them interested. I’m not a fool, I’m not a dreamer. But we’ve got to care about our brothers.”
Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 211