Monday, July 22, 2002

Rav Yisroel Chaim Prager Zt’l

The Torah world was thrown into yet another shock as tragedy struck unexpected and unannounced. There was no warning, no moments of time in which to daven to the Ribbono Shel Olam to ward off yet another tragedy in what seems to be an unending spate of gezeiros thrust upon Klal Yisrael.

HaRav Yisrael Chaim Praeger, Mashgiach Ruchni of Yeshivas Novominsk, one of Klal Yisrael’s young rising leaders, was taken from us suddenly and tragically, passing away from a sudden heart attack.

In the 45 years that Rav Yisrael Chaim impacted on the Torah world, his mark was felt by literally thousands of people, young and old, from Gedolei Yisroel to baalei batim, baalei teshuvah, and everyone in between. All those who knew him marveled at the level of his sincerity and enthusiasm for every aspect of Yiddishkeit, on every level of Yiddishkeit, ranging from his simple expression of warmth to the most distant and indigent Jew to reveling in the deepest mysteries of Toras Hanistar.

As these few paragraphs are being written with the commencement of shiva here in the United States, hundreds of menachmim are poring into the home where he raised together with his Rebbitzen Tibadel L’haim Aruchim, nine children, each one with a different chapter of an open book, whose powerful stories will continue to inspire for generations. His home served as more than a shelter to a wonderful Torah family. It was a host to countless guests, talmidim and friends, to wandering Jews, lost in the cruelty of an unforgiving world, who sought the comfort of his smile and the warmth of his embrace — both physically and spiritually.

His impact will be enshrined eternally as a compelling link in the unending chain of our mesorah. The passing of an odom godol in his prime leaves a gaping void in Klal Yisroel.

As I write these sentences, remembering my own personal encounters with Rav Yisrael Chaim as a bochur in Eretz Yisrael, and later as I met him during summers in Camp Rayim, I realize how difficult it is to encapsulate a life whose every living moment was not merely a brief article that conveyed fully the essence of Torah, but rather one that spoke volumes. Thus the family has requested that due to the short period of time from the levaya until press time, at this point only a brief overview should be written in time for the deadline.

Talmidim Share their Memories…

Reb Yisrael Chaim was defined by many of his dear friends, mentors and students in an unparalleled array of diverse qualities. Each talmid that I spoke to preceded his view of their rebbe, the Mashgiach, with a superlative. None of his talmidim, or chaveirim mentioned any of his attributes as a mere aside. In each one of those attributes he strove to the highest level of greatness in avodas haKodesh.

“He was the ultimate, mevakaish — seeker of greatness. He epitomized Ahavas Yisrael. He personified sheifah L’Gadlus. He exemplified Nosai B’ol Im Chavairo.”

Each talmid, friend, and relative of Rav Yisrael Chaim shone a spotlight upon another aspect of his rich personality. “ His warmth was unprecedented. His Shiurim were the most creative. His chidushim in Agada were unparalleled.”

Each of these statements, taken separately and combined, zero in on one factor: Klal Yisrael is left orphaned, together with the children, wife, mother, brothers, in-laws and thousands of Talmidim who lost a loving father, a devoted rebbe and an promising Gadol baTorah.

Early Roots

While yet a young bochur, it was clear to any observer that Yisrael Chaim was among the B’nai Aliyah. Raised in a home enveloped in Torah and Yiras Shamayim, to his father Rav Shloime Yitzchok Praeger zt’l and Tibadel L’Chaim Tovim his mother Rebbitzen Shulamis Praeger, (today Rebetzin Keller), Yisrael Chaim was clearly destined for greatness.

Rav Shloime Yitzchok Praeger, from the foremost Talmidim of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin was a towering Torah personality, who, like his son, left this world at an untimely age. Both of them passed away several weeks after their eldest child’s wedding, leaving a family and a nation in a state of mourning. Rav Shloime Yitzchok was a devoted father and a rebbe whose enduring impact is still talked about decades after his passing.

According to many observers, Rav Shloime Yitzchok was a Yid who personified m’sikas haTorah, a ‘zisse Yid’ whose greatness in midos was only matched by his greatness in Torah. The family always felt that in so many ways young Reb Yisrael Chaim was their true nechama upon the loss of their father, Rav Shloime Yitzchok, as he carried with him so many of the rare qualities of his cherished father.

Rav Yisrael Chaim, raised in an atmosphere of Kedusha, learned in the elementary school of Oholei Torah, with no formal schooling in Limudei Chol. It came as no surprise that he was chosen by Rav Hutner, even before becoming a Bar Mitzvah, to join an elite group of talmidim in a special shiur in Yeshiva Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin.

Rav Hutner would not be the only Gadol to see emerging greatness in Rav Yisrael Chaim. When leaving Rav Moshe Shapiro to learn under Rav Nachum Partzovitz in the Mir in Yerushalayim, the niftar was given a Michtav hamlatza, a glowing letter of approbation. Rav Nachum later told a confidant that in fifty years of seeing letters on behalf of potential students, he had never seen a letter glowing with such praise about a potential talmid.

It was the same greatness that Rav Eliyahu Weintraub saw in later years as he invited Rav Yisrael Chaim to learn Toras haNistar, in a special select chaburah.

It was the greatness that Rav Dovid Soleveitchik saw in him, that prompted him, despite his frail health, to accompany the Aron all the way to the kevurah on Har Hamenuchos.

After learning in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, Rav Yisroel Chaim went to Eretz Yisrael where he continued learning under the tutelage of Gedolai Olam, including Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l with whom he developed a tremendous kesher, and y’lch, Rav Moshe Schapiro and Rav Dov Schwartzman. He then went on to the Mir where he became an extremely close talmid to Rav Nachum Partzovitz. After his marriage to the daughter of Rav Yudel Aidelman, an aishes chayil with whom he built a beautiful family, Rav Yisroel Chaim continued learning by Rav Dovid Soleveitchik.

Signs of Greatness

It was clearly apparent that his years of study in the Mir under the close tutelage of Rav Nachum had a great impact on his shiurim and chaburos. Replete with quotes from Rav Nachum, brimming with insight, his chaburos in Yeshivas Novominsk had the ability to encompass wide-ranging sugyos under one Yesod. And the years in Brisk clearly accounted for his amazing proficiency in Seder Kodshim.

After his marriage he moved to Antwerp for several years, where he became a shoel u’maishiv in a prominent yeshiva. The tremendous hashpaa’ah of Rav Hutner was clearly apparent, as Rav Yisroel Chaim merged the Torah of the Sefas Emes and Rav Tzadok with the yesodos of the Maharal and the Ramchal and Rav Chaim Volozhiner. He had an uncanny ability to explain the most difficult concepts to his talmidim, each with his own nuances and brilliant inflections.

His quest for greatness was not restricted by the Torah of his Rabbeim. His love for gedolei Yisrael was profound. If there was an Odom Gadol in the vicinity, he would pursue the ability to develop and maintain a kesher with him, attempting to bask in the glow of their Torah.

Avodah Shebaleiv

His Avodas hatefillah set a standard to which talmidim would aspire. Like an “eved lifnei Rabbo,” he would stand with intense kavana, and despite the myriad tirchos and difficulties that a young man with a large family is responsible for, he never missed a single tefilah in Yeshiva.

No matter where he had to be in the morning, Rav Yisrael Chaim was there, in Yeshiva, for tefilas mincha. He was a role model for each and every talmid.

His Shemoneh Esrai did not end at the same time as did the tefillos of the tzibur. Although the minyan was complete, Rav Yisroel Chaim continued his avodah. Every day, with tears flowing from his eyes, he would daven on behalf of his talmidim, some who were not learning the way they should be, others who lost a parent, and for those who were in need of a shidduch.

He was always insistent to daven in the place of Torah — in the Novomisker Yeshiva, together with his beloved talmidim. He often exclaimed to the bochurim how he could not fathom davening anywhere else! And though his tefilos in the Yemos HaChol were filled with hislahaavus and emotion, the pachad, the sheer awe of the yemai hadin was apparent in all the tefilos of the Yomom Noraim.

Yomim Tovim transformed Rav Yisrael Chaim. Some talmidim had said that if there was ever a way to put a face to the words, “vsamachta b’chgecha,” it would be the face of Rav Yisrael Chaim Praeger. His Simchas Yom Tov overflowed with chidushim in halacha and Agadah and the dikduk hamitzvos hayom was unparalleled, not with nervous anxiety, but rather the joy that clearly conveyed that every one of his senses was imbued with total ruchniyus. His face would shine, as he made sure to fulfill each mitzvah in tachlis hadikduk.

The Quintessential Mashgiach

In the world of the modern day yeshiva, a Mashgiach is usually known as the last straw before official chastisement. Reb Yisrael Chaim’s role of Mashgiach was in no way the typical watchman who would chide the latecomers and discipline the unmanageable. Rav Praeger was not the type of Mashgiach boys would run from, but rather he was the unique Mashgiach that boys would run to!

He was a literal father to his beloved talmidim. He would build the boys up, focusing on their positive attributes instead of their negative ones. He approached each bochur with warmth and caring, and they responded in kind.

Once a boy was late to seder because he missed supper and was forced to go to an eatery to buy something to eat. Instead of rebuking him, Rav Yisroel Chaim insisted that he come to his home for supper to make sure that the boy would have a proper meal.

He would maintain a warm kesher with talmidim long after they left the Yeshiva, caring for their every concern. Their tragedies became his tragedies and their simchos became his. So much was a talmid’s simcha important, that despite coming late to weddings of relatives, he would be sure to come on time if not early to a student’s wedding. “He needs me there,” Rav Yisroel Chaim would say.

Boys who came from impoverished homes, and whose parents were spending their last dollars on s’char limud would be called into his office, only to leave with spending money. The Mashgiach knew that their parents could not afford extra money for their children. But Rav Yisrael Chaim also knew he could not afford to let them be in his yeshiva without an extra dollar to clean a shirt or mend a shoe.

His kindness surpassed the realm of contemporary chesed. Rav Yisroel Chaim often visited students who left the yeshiva years earlier and were struggling in Kollelim in Eretz Yisrael. During each visit he would bring wads of cash for their families. He became so endeared to many parents in the Yeshiva that they became true partners in his myriad merciful missions.

A Talmid wanted to go to Eretz Yisrael to learn, but financial difficulties had forced his parents to refuse permission. After Rav Yisrael Chaim had clarified that the only impediment was a financial one, he was ecstatic. “ Don’t worry! If the problem is money then it will all be taken care of.” And within a few hours it was!

The smallest things were of utmost importance to him when it came to the needs of any Ben Torah. There was a Canadian boy who learned in a yeshiva in New Jersey together with his son Shaya. Customs regulations precluded his Canadian parents from sending their son any packages that contained meat. Rav Yisrael Chaim made special packages for the Canadian boy, ensuring that he too would receive a little extra meat before the Yomim Tovim.

His kindness expanded way beyond the walls of the yeshiva or even the greater Novominsker family. During the Shiva a single mother came crying to his wife that for the last eight years Rav Yisrael Chaim had paid her grocery bill!

A Father to Yesomim

Often, when tragedy strikes, members of the community join in a very vocal and active first response. Time unfortunately erodes the emotions of mercy, yet the tide of tragedy remains with its ebbing impact as devastating as ever. Rav Yisrael Chaim never forgot those families. Years after a sudden petirah, he would tend to the orphaned children. He even asked the Novominsker Rebbe to accompany him one Rosh Hashanah to wish an Almanah and her family a Gut Yohr.

A tzorah to him was a piercing blow. Once it was rumored that a talmid was getting divorced a mere few weeks after the wedding. He was beside himself in grief, which was turned diametrically into joyous celebration when hearing that the rumors were unfounded.

His sensitivity for any Yid expanded to any descendant of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. Often he would comfort indigent and deranged Yidden whose outward appearance frightened most onlookers. Rav Yisrael obviously saw the neshama shining within the megushamdig appearance.

One Pesach night he insisted in inviting a homeless wanderer to his Seder. The man was bitter and unruly, and refused any overtures of kindness. And so, Rav Yisrael went home empty-handed. But before making Kiddush, he asked his family if he could go back and check on the man. He could not bear the fact that perhaps a Yid in Boro Park would not attend a Seder.

Erev Yom Kippur a few years ago, a man who was known to be not the conventional Yeshiva Talmid interrupted his preparations for the Seudah Hamafsekes. He wanted to review the tefilos of Yom Kippur in the quest of finding out which prayers were most important and what they actually meant. Despite his busy schedule, Rav Yisroel Chaim gave the man a significant amount of time in explaining each of the tefilos to him.


There was no warning of the sudden tragedy that was to befall the Praeger family, the Noviminsker Yeshiva, and the rest of the Torah world. Rav Yisroel Chaim appeared to be in perfect health, brimming with vitality. He had gone to Denver, Colorado, together with family members to spend a few days to rest up before the new zman. So typical of Rav Yisrael Chaim, he wanted to bring along some yesomim who had no father to take them on trips.

The family, including Rav Yisroel Chaim, his brothers, and a son, were on their way to climb scenic mountains that are known as hallmarks of the beauty of the Ribbono Shel Olam’s handiwork, the same mountains that Rav Gifter Zt’l had traveled to years ago. Suddenly, without warning, Rav Yisroel Chaim felt very ill. Yet he refused to alarm his family members, wanting to return to their lodgings alone, so his relatives would not miss out on their sightseeing. Only when he made them promise that they will return to the mountains, did he allow them to take him back to the city.

On the way back to Denver, the driver, not knowing the severity of the situation, pointed to other sights and mentioned that they would be passing a particular mountain. “When Rav Gifter saw this mountain,” said the driver, “he made a brocha Oseh maaseh B’raishis.”

Despite his severe chest pains, Rav Yisrael Chaim asked for the driver to stop and show him, so that he, too, could make the brocha. It was to be his final brocha in this temporal world. The rest of his blessings will be bestowed from Heaven.

His calm demeanor during his final moments was so typical of the nature of his character. Bochurim said never saw him in state of anger, or nervousness. Throughout the years he was a mashgiach, he always remained calm, and in control.

Realizing that this was to be the end, he asked that those accompanying him to recite Tehilim, and without a quiver in his voice, he inquired if anyone knew CPR.
He then lamented. “I cannot leave this world, I have so much left to do.” Those were his final words before his soul ascended to Shomayim.

The Levaya

The bitter news spread quickly, creating ripples of shock across the Torah world. The levaya began in Denver, where Rav Kahn, the Rav of Denver, and Rav Piekarski, a former talmid, now Rebbe in a yeshiva in Denver, were maspid. Then the aron was taken to New York, to the Noviminsker Yeshiva, where the niftar was a marbitz Torah in his all-too-short life. Thousands of talmidim and aveilim swarmed to the yeshiva, filling the blocks before the yeshiva, coming to pay their respects to a ben Torah, who accomplished so much in his 45 years on this world.

The Novominsker Rebbe delivered an emotional hesped, arousing the olam to tears. Between sobs, the Rebbe depicted the loss of a ‘yochid b’mino’, one of a kind marbitz Torah, whose neimus and harbotzas Torah were felt by all. The Rebbe described how the niftar was so much like his father, with the same varemkeit and greatness in Torah, a hemshech of his legacy. Now father and son are both together, rejoicing in Olam Haboh.

The Noviminsker Rebbe then addressed the grieving children, comforting them by saying “Bonim Atem LaHashem,” you are all children of the Ribono Shel Olam, and will be comforted by our Father in Heaven.

Rav Chaim Dov Keller, Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, Chicago, who married the widowed Rebetzin Praeger, was maspid his step-son with the words of Sholom Hamelech, “Eis Rikod, and Eis Lispod.” Rav Chaim Dov depicted the simcha of the wedding of the eldest Praeger daughter several weeks ago, contrasting it with the current tzaar of the petirah. He described the niftar’s chesed and Torah, and the irreplaceable void created with his passing.

Reb Yudel Adelman , the niftar’s father in law, based his hesped on the possuk “Tov Lagever Ki Yisa Ohl,” and described the “Yoke of Torah, family, and derech eretz,” that the niftar carried, devoting himself to each. He was a model marbitz Torah, model mashgiach, model husband and father, a true mentch in every sense of the word.

There was not a dry eye among the crowd when the niftar’s son Yeshaya, who had accompanied his father on the trip, was maspid. “Tatteh, I was the last one to learn with you that morning,” his son cried. “You loved us so much, you were always there for us.”

Rav Yosef Mermelstein, Rosh Yeshiva of Noviminsk, was maspid “an Amud of the Yeshiva, the rare combination of Torah u’chesed. As a sho’el umaishiv, he was a true lamdan, who built up the yeshiva. How can the yeshiva go on without him?”

Rav Mordechai Praeger, a brother of the niftar, depicted Rav Yisroel Chaim as a true “nechomoh to the family” after his father’s untimely passing. Even as a child his greatness was apparent, as he was placed in a special class for ‘metzuyonim.”

Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Heshel Bick, who knew the niftar since he was a child, was maspid a “tzaddik and yoshor whose hasmodoh and kishronos were outstanding, even as a young child. “According to the Novominsker Rebbe’s hesped,” said Rav Bick, “it is apparent that the niftar, who was held in high esteem by his Rabbeim, is a ben olam haboh.”

Rav Michel Handelsman, a brother in law, depicted the niftar’s exemplary ability to bring other people up to his level by virtue of his endearing personality. “He had a kuntz to make people more elevated.” Rav Shaul Pinter, b’shaim all the talmidim, described the niftar’s warmth toward the talmidim, how he felt with their tzaar and shared in their simchos. The niftar’s son Shloime also delivered an emotional leavetaking from his beloved father, who was so devoted to the family. Rabbi Eliyahu Seewald, the new son-in-law, described his shver as the “glue that held the family together.”

In Eretz Yisroel

After the emotional levaya, the niftar was taken to Eretz Yisroel, where a levaya took place at the Mirrer Bais Medrash. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the esteemed Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, delivered an emotional hesped for his beloved former talmid. Rav Ahron Chodosh, Mashgiach of Mir, also was maspid, recalling the niftar’s years in the yeshiva, and his exemplary hasmodoh.

As a gesture of closeness and friendship, Rav Yonason David, son in law of Rav Hutner, flew to Eretz Yisroel from Switzerland to attend the levaya.

Rav Shmuel Yaakov Borenshtein , Rosh yeshiva of Chevron Geulah, described the niftar as a true mevakesh, a lev rachum, a “grosier hartz.” Rav Moshe Saks, an uncle, and Rav Yudel Adelman, the niftar’s father in law, were also maspid. Rav Nechemia Kaplan described Rav Yisroel Chaim a “giver, always giving, never taking.”

Rav Yisroel Perlow, son of the Noviminsker Rebbe, recalled his beloved Mashgiach always with a “sefer ponim yafos,” always a smile and gut vort. The niftar’s son was also masid, as was Rabbi Yechiel Fried in the name of the talmidim of Eretz Yisroel. Rav Dovid Soloveitchik accompanied the aron to Har Hamenuchos, where Rav Yisroel Chaim was laid to his final rest.

The niftar is survived by his wife, a true eishes chayil, his mother, nine children and nine siblings, as well as thousands of talmidim who are today marbitzei Torah across the yeshiva world. His presence leaves a gaping void, an open wound in the fraying fabric of our generation. TNZB’H.

The author would like to thank Rabbis Nochum Binder and Shaul Pinter, as well as family members for generously sharing of their time and impressions of the niftar. We would like to apologize for any inaccuracies due to time constraints.

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Rav Aaron Moshe Jacobs ZT’L

A Tazadik in Our Times

In his 43 years on this earth, Rav Aaron Moshe Jacobs, one of the most beautiful young Talmidei Chachamim in this generation, impacted so many individuals in so many different ways – lifting each one up in a unique way to grow in Torah and Yiras Shamayim.Reb Aaron Moshe’s life spoke volumes. His multi-faceted Torah personality evoked truly, without any exaggeration, hundreds of stories. His diligence, his kindness, his tefillos, his emunah, his love of Klal Yisrael – each aspect of his life can be documented with hundreds of stories. As I type, more and more stories are being told by the thousands of men, women, and children who attended his levaya, both here and in Eretz Yisrael, and by the scores upon scores, of people who came to be menachem avel.
Each one of those anecdotes is indicative of his extraordinary character, his selfless devotion to others, and his unwavering quest for growth in Torah and Yiras ShamayimTo every one of the storytellers, to all those who had no particular story, but just knew him as a rebbe, as a chaver or an acquaintance, Rav Aaron Moshe was a giant.
He was a fountain who dispensed an endless cascade of wisdom and hashpa’ah, clearly a tree whose fruit nourished anyone who was wise enough to partake in their delicious sweetness, whose all encompassing branches sheltered anyone in its shade. The fountain has ceased. The tree has been cut down. The sweet water no longer flows. No more delicious fruit. The most searing pain is of course to his immediate family, a loving wife, whose astonishing mesiras nefesh allowed Reb Aaron Moshe to teach others, and grow in Torah. There are no words to describe the loss of a father of ten beautiful children, who looked to their father as a moreh derech; a guide in every aspect of their lives who was there for them no matter where he was. How can we describe the loss to bereaved parents and in-laws who were like parents, brothers and sisters, who cared for him day and night throughout every procedure, every treatment, every difficult nuance of the grueling final journey.
The friends, the Talmidim, and the neighbors are bereft. But they are not alone. Knesses Yisrael cries as well. The hundreds upon hundreds of talmidim, and friends – those who were and those who could have been, they are all orphans. And then those who would have basked and glowed in the greatness that could have been but was not meant to be. And so the tears come as well, from the One who knows what greatness could have been if not for this, yet another terrible gezeirah of our times. And the Shechina cries as well.There is nothing to say.
The job is impossible to accomplish. I spoke to him just a few times. But he was to me in many ways a rebbe, showering me with his emunah and bitachon. For over a year his name was on the minds of hundreds and thousands of mispallelim. Aaron Moshe ben Itta. It is hard to fathom that he is no longer with us here. I know he is beseeching our Great Father in Shamayim.And with tears, I put away the story of the terrible tragedy of the loss, the story of Aaron Moshe ben Itta, and attempt to write a little bit about HaRav HaTzaddik Reb Aaron Moshe, zichrono livrachah ben yibadel le’chaim aruchim Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Jacobs. Ever since his childhood, Aaron Moshe Jacobs was a symbol of enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos, whose radiant smile shone through the darkest clouds, and brightening anyone who saw him.Born a mere 43 years ago to his parents, Reb Yitzchak HaKohen and Itta Jacobs, Reb Aaron Moshe, the second oldest of a family of five boys and one girl, attended Yeshiva Torah Voda’ath of Flatbush for elementary school. As a young boy, Aaron Moshe displayed his love for Torah and those who learned Torah. At a very young age, he would reproduce and distribute pictures of Gedolei Yisrael, and that passion for gedolim he carried throughout his life. He loved any item that connected him to Gedolei Yisrael. He studied their expressions in the quest to emulate their nuances, each action representing Torah. His home was adorned with pictures of Gedolim. In fact in his study there were two pictures hanging next to each other. They were both pictures of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. One was of Rav Moshe poring over a Gemara, deep in thought, forehead creased as he was delving into learning. The other, only a few centimeters away was also of Rav Moshe, but this one had the revered Posek wearing a broad smile, the simchas hachayim clearly apparent.A friend asked him, why do you need two pictures of Rav Moshe right next to each other? Why not have two different Gedolim, or just one picture of Rav Moshe? Rav Aaron Moshe explained. We must study a gadol B’Yisrael, both how he is immersed in learning and how he is when greeting others. Each picture may be unique, but we must learn from both pictures equally!
That story in essence was the story of Rav Aaron Moshe, the immersed masmid, the intense oveid and at the same time the smiling Talmid Chacham friend ready to greet his fellow Jew.Reb Aaron Moshe learned in Mesivta Be’er Shmuel and in 1976, after graduating high school at age seventeen he joined a group of Talmidim who would pioneer to become the founding bachurim of a new yeshiva in Stamford, Connecticut. Reb Aaron Moshe was one of the youngest members of the chaburah, but in typical fashion, he was rosh, v’rishon l’chol dovor she’bikdusha. The leading initiator when it came to any matter of kedusha , many of his chaveirim, fondly reminisce, that appropriately enough, he was actually the first one off the bus! He was the first bachur to enter the portals of that most sacred Yeshiva, known today as Yeshivas Bais Binyamin.Actually, this would be the first of three times that Rav Aaron Moshe would work diligently on behalf of the Stamford Yeshiva. In 1981, while learning in Eretz Yisrael, by Rav Dovid Soleveitchik, the Yeshiva brought in a new Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Meir Hershkowitz, who later would become Rav Aaron Moshe’s father-in-law. As with any transformation in an institution, the Yeshiva needed chizuk. Reb Aaron Moshe led a group of ten talmidim who returned to Stamford to strengthen the Yeshiva. Years later, after he was married and living in Lakewood, Rav Aaron Moshe would use his tremendous influence to help build the Bais Medrash of the Stamford yeshiva and create the Mesivta division, encouraging and recruiting talmidim to learn there, and later becoming the 11th grade Maggid Shiur.Upon his first experience in Stamford, back in the late 1970’s Aaron Moshe immediately became endeared to yibadel l’chaim aruchim, the Roshei Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Schapiro and Rav Simcha Schustal. They saw in him the depth of character, the ultimate mevakesh whose simchas hachaim brought an atmosphere of “gilu ber’adah,” “rejoicing in awe” to the Yeshiva. Upon meeting him Rav Moshe Shapiro, said, mit em ken men boyen a Yeshiva. For many years, even after Rav Schapiro left the United States and moved back to Eretz Yisrael, Rav Aaron Moshe retained his close kesher with him. Rav Simcha Schustal had a great affection for him as well. He told a Talmid, “such a person with a life so full of Avodas Hashem was astounding.” He could not imagine how after his operation, when he retuned to say the shiur, he acted as if nothing had happened. He did not diminish any one of the normal efforts he offered his Talmidim, including chazaras hashiur and staying longer to answer questions. Of course, of the three Roshei Yeshiva who were there in Stamford during the period that Rav Aaron Moshe was a talmid, Rev Aaron Moshe would eventually became the closest to Rav Meir Hershkowitz since he married Rav Meir’s daughter, Chaya in 1982. Rav Aaron Moshe said that he would work day and night to ensure that Rav Meir would have whatever he needed both personally and for the Yeshiva. HasmadahAs a young bachur in Stamford, his amazing abilities were immediately realized by the other bachurim as well, and his enthusiasm energized the fledgling mossad HaTorah.
From the very first days, Reb Aaron Moshe was immediately known for his hasmada. There were two groups of masmidim in Yeshiva. There were those who would learn until the wee hours of the night, and there was another group of talmidim who would arise early in the morning, two or three hours before Shacharis in order to learn before davening. Reb Aaron Moshe was unique. He was a member of both groups. He was from the last to leave the Bais Medrash and from the first ones to enter the Bais Medrash in the morning. His deprivation of sleep, for the sake of being osek baTorah was not limited only to the years of his late teens when he was strong and unburdened.
Rav Dovid Hersch Meyer, Menahel of Yeshivas Bais Binyamin of Stamford, relates that throughout the nine years that Rav Aaron Moshe was a Maggid Shiur in the Mesivta, it was almost impossible to find free time to discuss administrative matters with him. Unless, of course, he wanted to pull him away from learning, something the Menahel would not do. And so, if there was a side issue to discuss, Reb Dovid Hersch would wait in the Bais Medrash until three o’clock in the morning, and only as Reb Aaron Moshe was putting away his Gemara, was Rabbi Meyer able to talk to him. Mesikas HaTorah — Simchas HaChayimAs he developed in learning, Rav Aaron Moshe’s tefillos of “V’ha’arev Na, Please, Ribbono Shel Olam, make the Torah sweet,” began to personify him. He embodied mesikus HaTorah in every respect! As he became known as the shtarker lamden, he simultaneously was growing in his sweetness.To him Torah was like candy to a child. The enthusiasm for Torah that he amassed in his younger years, only grew with him.
His current young charges, the Mesivta Talmidim who tearfully attended the massive levaya, complained. “No one talked about how much Rebbe loved us! No one talked about how much Rebbi loved the Tosfos!” To his students, the Tosfos was as living as they were, and his love for both the Tosfos and the talmidim who were learning them one thousand years later was parallel. Truth be told, it is no wonder that his presence exuded joy. The Mishna in the sixth Perek in Avos tells us that “whoever learns Torah Lishma, is “mesameach the Ribbono Shel Olam, and is mesameach all his creatures!” Rav Aaron Moshe diffused the joy and sweetness of Torah to all who knew him.His sweetness and gentle demeanor did not impede his strong opinion in the search for truth. If a student was unclear and tried to ramble his way through an explanation, Rav Aaron Moshe would stop him cold— albeit with a warm heart. His love for his students was in no way a contradiction with his love for clarity and truth. When you told him a vort, a Torah thought, he would stop and think. He would crease his forehead in thought, ask questions, and pursue answers until everything was clear. Then he would beam, and, with a shout and a smile that paralleled one winning the big jackpot, he would declare, “MOIRADIK!”Kavod haTorahHis warmth and kindness were carefully balanced with his demand for kavod HaTorah. The first day as a Rebbe in The Mesivta, some of the students who already knew him well and felt so close to him, waved when he walked in, as if to say hello. He smiled. Then he stopped. I am now your rebbe. It is best if you greet me by standing up.
He once brought a child to a prestigious eye doctor who gave a long discourse about the workings of the eye. It was replete with technical terms and intricacies. The doctor who was an expert in his field, and never ceased to mention it, ended his discourse on ophthalmology with a snide remark, “It does not say this in the Talmud, does it?” Rav Aaron Moshe did not flinch. “It is there. You just have to know where to look. You are an expert in medicine and I am an expert in Talmud.” When it came to kavod haTorah Rav Aaron Moshe was extremely strong. The doctor was taken aback. But the impact of Rav Aaron Moshe’s protest was felt a bit later when the doctor wanted to schedule a follow up appointment. “I am sorry,” responded Rav Aaron Moshe, “I give a Talmud class at that hour and I will not cancel that class for anything.”
The doctor understood the message and apologized for his irreverence.His insistence on proper Kavod Chachamim was extended to all gedolei Yisrael. When a book came out which portrayed one of the great gedolim of the previous generation in a light that shone less than worthy, Rav Aaron Moshe led a successful campaign to have the book withdrawn. His chaver Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Hamburger wrote a sefer Sha’arei Rachamim on the 13 Middos, the 13 Attributes of Hashem’s Mercy. He asked Rav Aaron Moshe to review it, pencil in his comments, and send it back to him. However, Rav Aaron Moshe, despite his extremely busy schedule, refused to let the manuscript out of his hands. He insisted that he discuss every comment, each detail with Rabbi Hamburger and make sure that each one was presented in the appropriate manner.
After hours and hours of work, he refused to allow his name to be mentioned, even to be thanked for all his effort. In addition he was very instrumental in helping distribute and sell the sefer and refused to take any remuneration. The amazing aspect of his intensity is that it never affected his demeanor. Anyone who would immerse himself in any other subject with the same forceful and passionate intensity that Rav Aaron Moshe had for limud HaTorah would have truly either cracked under the strain or would have shown the effects of the pressures. However, Reb Aaron Moshe bore the yoke of Torah as if aron nosei es nosa’av? The Aron carried those that tried to carry it. No matter how difficult things were, the simchas HaTorah uplifted him! He was always the picture of Simcha and exuberance.Those who called him during his illness to lend chizuk, left the conversations with their own emunah and bitachon strengthened. He carried those who tried to carry him.AvodahHis deep concentration combined with his tremendous hasmada in the world of Torah Study, in no way interfered with the other two Amudei Olam, upon which Rav Aaron Moshe’s world rested. His hasmada in Torah was only paralleled by his unwavering commitment to Avodah and Gemillas Chassadim.
Throughout his life, the focus on Tefillah with deep kavana, was a central mission for Reb Aaron Moshe. His passion to inspire the value of Tefillah in its proper formula was not a personal aspiration. It was an undertaking that he imparted to his friends, his Talmidim, his family and everyone he encountered. He looked at tefillah as a privilege, Once a bachur wanted to take a nap during the tefillos of Behab. He asked his Rebbe if it would be appropriate to take a nap rationalizing that “in this way I could learn better first seder.” Rav Aaron Moshe thought, for a moment, “I can’t answer the question, but I will tell you that the Tefillah of Behab is a tremendous zechus to say. You have to know if you want to give up that zechus!” He looked at Tefillah as an opportunity. In the few conversations, I had with him, he conveyed the importance of talking to the Ribbono Shel Olam with the clear vision that you are conversing with a Father and a King who is standing in front of you and actually listening to every one of your supplications. That it is the most powerful weapon to achieve any request. He believed that it worked then any medicine or armament. “In order to daven with kavana, you have to believe in its power!”“Tefillah should not be said by rote in a dull monotone! Instead it must be an emotional experience. Rejoice when you daven about the great compassion that the Ribbono Shel Olam bestows upon us! Cry when you beseech the Ribbono Shel Olam to act on behalf of Klal Yisrael. Tremble when you daven about the awe of the Melech Malchei Hamlachim.”
In fact, his dear friend Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua Hamburger, related that ever since the word daven became synonymous with the concept of “davening up,” a fast reading without thought of the actual words, Reb Aaron Moshe was uncomfortable with the term as it related to the Avodas haTefilah. Rather he would say, “let’s go beseech the Ribbono Shel Olam.”The tefillah of Avinu Malkeinu is comprised of 44 pleas to the Ribbono Shel Olam. Each sentence begins with the words, “Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King,” and ends with a an appeal, “send parnassah,” “remember that we are dust,” “invalidate from us all the harsh decrees” or any of the other forty-one different pleas to the Ribbono Shel Olam. In many Yeshivos the emphasis in the Tefillah of Avinu Malkeinu is often placed on the supplication portion of each sentence – the requests that we beseech of the Creator. Reb Aaron Moshe had a different focus. He concentrated on the words Avinu Malkeinu. To him that was the most important part of the tefillah, the constant acceptance and awareness of the Borei Olam as both our Father and our King. He would often translate, as he davened – Avinu – Unzer Tatta (Father) Malkeinu –Unzer Kenig— Our King.”Reb Aaron Moshe implored his Talmidim to daven for everything. Nothing should be taken for granted. In fact his focus on the need to be mispallel for everything, displayed an appreciation for everything: his family, his children, his Yeshiva, his talmidim, and perhaps most importantly his ability to sit and learn Torah. Before he left to learn in Eretz Yisrael Rav Aaron Moshe met an eight-year-old boy. After shmoozing with this child for a while, Reb Aaron Moshe told the boy that he was going to Eretz Yisrael to learn, but he would write to him.We only know this because during the shiva, the young boy, now a grown man, brought the family the post cards that Rav Aaron Moshe wrote to him! In each letter he inquired about how the young boy was learning, how was school, etc.He ended his letters. “Please answer all of my questions. Your friend, Aaron Moshe Jacobs”.
His tenure in Eretz Yisrael lasted until he returned to be mechazek the Stamford Yeshiva during its transition. During his almost three years in Brisk, he cared for many bachurim who had no friends in their new environment. Pinchos Gershon Waxman relates that he came as a bachur to Eretz Yisrael with the understanding that an apartment and a chavrusa would be waiting for him. It was not to be.“And so,” retells, Reb Pinchos Gershon a former deputy mayor in Lakewood, “I meandered on the streets of Geulah. No apartment, nowhere to sleep. I was upset, even scared, and terribly homesick.” Suddenly a hand tapped him on the shoulder. “You look lost. Something is troubling you. You look like you need a place to stay.” It was none other than Reb Aaron Moshe, who took Pinchos to his own apartment, gave him his bed and did not stop working until he had arranged an apartment for him. Reb Aaron Moshe did not stop at obtaining an apartment. He took care of Pinchos Gershon like a brother. He even learned a night seder with him.Similar stories were recounted by many other new bachurim who Aaron Moshe took care of in Eretz Yisrael.
Despite the time he took to care for others he was known as one of the outstanding Talmidim in Rav Dovid Soloveitchik’s Yeshiva. He spent hours upon hours on the Brisker shiurim, and in typical display of his concern for others, he photocopied all his notes and left them under the bimah in the Bais Medrash for anyone to use. These notes were used by bachurim for at least ten years after he left Rav Dovid’s yeshiva.He maintained a close kesher with Rav Dovid for all the years after he left Eretz Yisrael.He kept in close contact with so many bachurim from all types of Yeshivos whom he met in Eretz Yisrael.Scores of people who either got near the overflowing Bais Medrash where the levaya was held or squeezed their way into the home of the niftar to be menachem avel commented, “I am surprised. I thought that I was Aaron Moshe’s closest friend.”
Mevareich es amo B’Ahavah…As a Kohen, Rav Aaron Moshe took his responsibility to bless Klal Yisrael with enormous gravity. He viewed the job as a unique opportunity that the Ribbono Shel Olam afforded him. And he was so grateful as he truly fulfilled the blessing that preceded the Birchas Kohanim. “. . . Who commanded us to bless his nation Yisrael, with love.” Rav Aaron Moshe worked on the ahavah with the same intensity as one who spends hours choosing a beautiful esrog. Dr. David Smolanoff of Stamford related: “Although, for many years, I noticed the boys who learned at the Stamford Yeshiva in my neighborhood, and felt inspired by their distinguished manner and dress, I never had the courage to visit the Yeshiva. Then I was brought closer to Yiddishkeit by various kiruv organizations in New York. But now I wanted more. I decided it was time to grow in Yiddishkeit – really learn Torah – in a Yeshiva with a Talmid of the Yeshivas Bais Binyamin. I was not sure how to go about it, so I looked up the number of the Yeshiva on Prospect Street and made a cold call to the telephone number listed in the Stamford phone book.“The man who answered the phone exuded warmth. He asked me to come to the Yeshiva where he would meet me and further discuss my needs. I did not know about the Yeshiva dress code and so I arrived a few hours later – dressed in a sweatshirt, sweat pants and sneakers. The same rabbi who took the phone call greeted me. His name was Aaron Moshe and he embraced me so warmly – as if I was his long lost relative. His vision of me transcended my attire. He just seemed to notice my neshama. He had set up soda, cookies and cake in the Yeshiva’s cafeteria and we talked for a while. He showed me around, and each student or faculty member, young or old, greeted me as if I was the man they were waiting for since the Yeshiva opened its doors. I learned in Stamford once a week for three to four months. Since then I have progressed in my Torah learning, continuing my shiurim in Manhattan and other places. “It was through the Yeshiva that I met my wife and now, we both learn. I learn three or four nights a week in the Yeshiva and she learns with one of the wives of the Rebbeim several nights a week. Hashem brought me to Rabbi Jacobs and Rabbi Jacobs brought me closer to Hashem.“But the real story,” continued Dr. Smolanoff, “I found out just this week during the shiva. Immediately after Reb Aaron Moshe took the call he spoke to his 11th grade. ‘A man will be visiting the Yeshiva. He wants to become closer to Hashem. He wants to learn Torah. Everyone here is responsible to greet him warmly and be mekarev him. He reiterated the directive to his administrative colleagues as well.However, Reb Aaron Moshe’s responsibility to draw Yidden closer to the Ribbono Shel Olam did not begin in Stamford. When Reb Aaron Moshe was learning by Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, he once decided towards the end of a long winter z’man that he would leave Yerushalayim with his chavrusah and spend the last week of the z’man in Neve Yehoshua, a yeshiva for modern American boys located near Netanya. He immediately became a centerpiece of curious attraction to the American kids who saw this tall stately Talmid Chacham, long payos tucked under his yarmulka, sitting and learning with a fervor the like of which they had never seen. Many of them befriended him. And those friendships lasted for decades. He wrote to them after they returned to the States. His letters were filled with words of chizuk, emunah and bitachon. I spoke to one of the teens who continued his close relationship with Reb Aaron Moshe until the Petirah. Dozens of letters were exchanged, phone calls were made every week for years, in fact Reb Aaron Moshe came to Long Island to be at his friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah. The bar mitzvah bachur was a small boy. And when Reb Aaron Moshe was called up as a Kohen, his first stop was to get a box to bring up to the Bimah. The boy stood on it, but he was still nervous. And so Aaron Moshe who did not even know the child, held his hand throughout the entire laining! The father was overseas when Reb Aaron Moshe was niftar. But when he returned this week, his son, now 15 insisted that he, too, be menachem ovel with his father. The impact of Reb Aaron Moshe’s chessed was never lost on him.Indeed, everyone whom Reb Aaron Moshe encountered was left with an everlasting impression of his outstanding middos and ebullient enthusiasm. Once, Reb Aaron Moshe went to pick up a second-hand chest that he was buying from a person who lived a few miles outside of Lakewood. After completing the purchase, he hauled the chest into his car, and was about to drive away, when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. The son of the seller, who was incidentally not at all an observant Jew, was struggling with his bicycle. The chain had fallen off and the wheels would not turn. Reb Aaron Moshe stopped the car, rolled up his sleeves and re-chained the bicycle his hands left with souvenirs of grease and grime.He thought that this favor was forgotten. It was not. Eight years later, he received a phone call. “Rabbi Jacobs?” said a woman with a hesitant voice. “Do you remember that you bought a chest some eight years ago?” “Why, yes,” answered R’ Aaron Moshe, “is there a problem?” “Of course not. On the way out you helped our son with his new bicycle. We were so impressed with the way you conducted yourself through the transaction and so grateful how you helped our boy with the bicycle that we kept your number. The bike is in good condition and we would like to give it to your family.”
HaBoteach B’Hashem Chessed Y’SovveveHu
One of the greatest and most amazing aspects of Reb Aaron Moshe’s multi-faceted personality was his ever-present sense of calm. One year he was traveling with his family from Lakewood to Stamford to serve as the Ba’al Tokea in the Stamford Yeshiva. Traffic was unbearable and the only way he would get to the Yeshiva before Yom Tov was to drive on the shoulder for miles on end. During the entire trip, he remained calm and collected while his passengers were breaking a sweat.“How can you remain so calm?” they exclaimed.Reb Aaron Moshe smiled, “Will worrying get me there any faster?” They arrived before Rosh Hashanah with only a few minutes to spare.Later, the passenger commented that Reb Aaron Moshe’s calm was so unreal that it made him nervous. His emunah was renowned way before his final illness. In every aspect of life whether as mundane as a missed car ride or as major as a surgery he saw the Hand of Hashem clearly and distinctly.In Reb Aaron Moshe’s eyes, you did not miss a car ride, “The Ribbono Shel Olam did not want you to make that ride.” In fact he consoled a talmid who had spent the better half of a day in a futile attempt trying to start his car. The boy wanted to go to the mountains and just didn’t quit trying to fix the car even though it was already too late to have made it to the country on time. Every effort that he attempted had failed.“Rebbe,” the talmid complained. I wasted an entire day, I could have been learning. I should have stopped when I saw that I would not get to the mountains. I missed an opportunity for growth.”Reb Aaron Moshe, who always was able to turn a negative experience into a positive Torah lesson put his hand on his shoulder and comforted the young man. “If you keep that lesson with you for the rest of your life, then the day was not wasted!” His attention to details of Chessed was meticulous. One Friday afternoon, the garage door of a neighbor who lived across the street came crashing down on top of the homeowner’s young child. The parents were distraught and Rav Aaron Moshe rushed across the street to calm the parents and aid the young boy. He went together with them to the hospital, and remained there until he was sure that the doctors were attending to the injured boy. Then he arrived home with his bloody shirt, before Shabbos. Then right away, he went across the street, hammer and broom in hand. He swept up the broken glass, and then fixed the broken door.Toward the end of his life, Reb Aaron Moshe was not fazed. “What can be better than to have your entire fate in the Hand of Hashem?”
His Emunah and Bitachon during that difficult year was so phenomenal that Roshei Yeshiva, among them Rav Brus, Rosh Yeshiva Bais HaTalmud remarked, that Rav Aaron Moshe’s level of emunah surpassed that of many of the great men of the previous generation. Rav Aaron Moshe would continue to draw from the wellsprings of his revered Rebbeim over the course of his life, but more so he would develop strong keshorim with scores of Gedolei Yisrael who were outside the realm of his Yeshiva. He would often talk with the Philadelphia RoshYeshiva, Rav Elya Svei, asking him a host of sheilos on behalf of his Talmidim. The Rosh Yeshiva remarked that that he himself learned much from the emunah which Rav Aaron Moshe displayed. Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of South Fallsburg lamented that there was hardly anyone like him in this age. He maintained strong kesharim with the entire hanahalla of Bais Medrash Govoah and with the Mashgiach, Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, in addition to his kesher with Rav Yisrael Spinner, Rav Chaim Leib Epstein, Rav Avraham Ausband and Rav Uren Reich.As a chassan he learned by the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yehuda Zev Segal. With the Rosh Yeshiva’s encouragement he helped develop the English language Shemiras HaLoshon calendar delineating a precise daily routine to ensure the completion of the Chofetz Chaim’s great work through learning day by day throughout the year. He grew extremely close with Rav Segal who only used terms of endearment when referring to Rav Aaron Moshe.To Reb Aaron Moshe, time was of great value, he wanted to make sure that any time spent, was well spent. To that end he established a Yeshivas Bein Hazmanim Lakewood, and offered monetary incentives to those who attended.As a Talmid in Manchester he noticed that a group of boys would spend their Bein Has’dorim, wasted with devorim b’teilim, which could lead chas v’shalom to worse. He arranged that they should play outside in the yard, something that the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva supported. All this was to ensure that those boys would not use their “break time in a destructive manner.” He noticed even the smallest details and elevated them. He used every opportunity to fulfill a Mitzvah. A guest to his home on Shabbos was sitting on a chair. “Come,” said Reb Aaron Moshe, “It is Shabbos, let us sit on the sofa and fulfill Oneg Shabbos!”Every Mitzvah, every miktzoah in Torah meant worlds to him. He learned, milah, shechita and the skill of tekias shofar. “A Talmid chacham,” he would say, “must learn to do everything!”Every bachur, meant a world to him. He spent hours upon hours helping boys find shidduchim, learning with individual bachurim, and finding proper Yeshivos for those who were not being matzliach in their present ones. Even when he was not able to come home from Stamford he would call nightly to help his children with their homework, reports and to be mechazek his Rebbetzin whose unparalleled mesiras nefesh allowed him to learn and teach with menuchas hanefeshOn Shabbosim he would sit and learn at the bottom of the staircase to ensure that the children would not go upstairs and disturb their mother. He had a special affinity, a feeling of responsibility toward yesomim. He was a literal father and mother to many a yasom, and cared for them with his entire heart and soul. The LevayaWithin moments of the tragic news the Olam haTorah was plummeted into grief. By the time the levaya began in the main building of Bais Medrash Govoah, you could not even enter the building. Thousands of friends acquaintances and Talmidim packed the building. Tearful hespedim were rendered by: His father-in-law, Stamford Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Meir Hershkowitz; Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Dovid Schustal; His brother-in-law, Rav Shiya Lichtenstein; His brother Rav Dov Shmuel Jacobs; Stamford Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Simcha Schustal; Stamford Menahel, Rav Dovid Hersh Meyer; Lakewood, Mashgiach, Rav Mattisyahu Salomon. At Kennedy Airport the Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow spoke. In Eretz Yisrael, thousands came to the levaya, including gedolei Roshei Yeshiva, and Rabbonim, as he had maintained keshorim with so many Gedolei Yisrael.Rav Aaron Moshe was given the kaovod acharon on Har HaMenuchos. May the Father of Yesomim take care of a generation of yesomim in the z’chus of this great man who himself was a father to so many yesomim. And may we merit to see the Geulah Shleimah Bi’meheirah be’yameinu amen.