A seemingly ambitious present for a young American day school student
Title: Rav Nosson Tzvi’s Bar Mitzvah Present
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Last week marked the end of shivah for the family of Rabbi Dr. Asher Finkel, a great-grandson of the Alter of Slabodka and the son of Rav Eliezer Finkel. Back in 1956, Asher, then a budding 21-year-old talmid chacham and close student of Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik at Yeshiva University, attended the Chicago bar mitzvah of his cousin Nosson Tzvi (then called Natie). To mark the special occasion, he presented the bar mitzvah bochur with a set of Rambam — seemingly an ambitious present for a young American day school student. Inside several volumes, Asher penned the following inscription:
A present for my dear cousin Nosson Tzvi,
As you accept upon yourself the yoke of mitzvos, please never forget to study this sefer, which enumerates and explains the details of the mitzvos.
“Natie” Finkel would grow up to become one of the gedolei hador; Asher kept up his part as well. Embarking upon a high-level academic career, in his spare time he learned Torah and delivered shiurim, serving at one point as a rabbi in New York. Later in life he’d spend part of the year in Yerushalayim. When Reb Asher visited, the feeble Mir Rosh Yeshivah would rise from his chair for his older cousin, whose call of a half century earlier he had heeded for life.
Rabbi Eliezer Finkel, Reb Asher’s father, was known as the Slabodker Illui. A talmid of Etz Chaim and Chevron Yeshiva, he arrived in the US following World War II and taught at Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Detroit and Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois. His long rabbinical career included tenures in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Columbus, Ohio; and Brooklyn.
Did You Know: At this year’s Mir Yerushalayim dinner, a volume from this storied set of Rambam was presented to the guest of honor, Mr. Ali Scharf. Dinner chairman Mr. Ralph Herzka expressed the well-used sefer’s historic symbolism:
“When Rav Nosson Zvi’s cousin presented him with this Rambam, he never dreamt that he was presenting it to the future Rosh Yeshivah of the world. This is a powerful reminder of the Mir’s mission statement: ‘Each and every person who walks through the door of the yeshivah is capable of reaching the highest levels of Torah.’ ”
Thank you to Rabbi Yoeli Klein for his assistance.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 826)
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