Memories from Talmidim
We didn't just lose a Rosh HaYeshiva. We lost a teacher, leader, advisor, educator, journalist, planner, historian, lecturer, statesman, therapist, problem-solver, author, diplomat, patriarch, friend, comrade and rebbie.
We have created this page to give an opportunity for rabbis, staff, students, alumni and friends to share their memories and thoughts about a man who so successfully dedicated his entire life to educating his fellow Jew. This will help us towards an understanding of who Rav Weinbach zt”l was and what he meant to all who had the merit to know him and interact with him.
Our loss is immeasurable, but our consolation will be in fulfilling the continuity of his legacy of reaching out to our fellow Jew and bringing him closer to Torah.
If you would like to share a memory or thought on Rav Weinbach zt"l to be published on this site, please please use this form.
© Ohr Somayach International
It is only fitting that his passing was during the days of Chanukah. I strive to make his life work and daily dedication to kiruv rechokim an inspiration in my life.
I have three strong recollections of R. Mendel Weinbach zt'l. These three incidents occurred in my years in Ohr Somayach.
The first was possibly my first Shavuos in '80. At about 1 AM the Rosh Yeshiva spoke on Shavuos in a booming voice. It was breathtaking and awesome at the same time. Rav Mendel made it real. Every Shavuos I think about his drasha.
Next, I recall the Rosh Yeshiva speaking on Yom Haatzmaut. Everyone came to hear this drasha. Women were in the Ezras Nashim. It seemed that everyone knew that the drasha would be powerful. I still hear his words, 'Today is a day of great joy, and of great sadness. Joy, because of the Land of Eretz Yisrael. And sadness because of what could have been.
Finally I recall one Purim morning where Rav Mendel made gramen- poems at breakfast.
Stealthily, the South African bochurim were handing him shots of whiskey, first one, then another. It wasn't too long before the Rosh Yeshiva, was unable to continue the gramen. I was stupefied as they led him off to a taxi.
A few nights later Rav Mendel gave the evening drasha and discussed the concept of ad delo yodah, what it means and the depth behind the mitzvah. He summed up and explained the mitzvah to those who were left wondering if Purim was really such a great thing after all.
Rav Mendel's example and lessons left indelible impressions on me. I hear his voice ringing in my ears and I cannot imagine who I would be without his actions, words and feelings.
Knowing no one; having nothing else to do, I let the girls bring me to class. The learning, with its intellectual vigor and the depth of its relevance to the Human Condition, brought a dimension to our lives undreamt of in college and grad school.
The Em ha Bayit (House Mother), Rebbitzen Feldman (wife of Rav Aaron Feldman) initiated the conversation.
She: Why not stay?
Me: I live with someone in the States.
She: She can come, too.
Me: I don't think so.
She: Why not?
Me: It's not a She. It's a He.
She: He could attend the Boy's school.
Me: I don't think so.
She: Why not?
Me: He's only eight.
She: Let me get back to you on this.
The following day, I was brought in to meet Reb Mendel Weinbach. His voice was high and soft and sweet. He bade me sit down. For the next half hour, he listened deeply, laughed lightly and easily and, barely looking me in the eye, asked gently probing questions about my background, my (total lack of) Jewish knowledge, my impressions of the Girl's School, my little boy.
My family was so assimilated, I explained, that it had only been by chance that I'd found out we were Jews. My brother had no children. My cousins had all married out. And I was divorced at twenty. My little boy was the last Jew in the family.
Reb Mendel shook his head, sighed. So, perhaps you can bring him here for the rest of the summer ? We've arranged a scholarship for him to a day camp, while you continue your learning.
So that is how it all began. By the summer's end, Reb Mendel and Mrs. Feldman had arranged accommodations, a living stipend, and a place for Joshua in an excellent school, Horev.
Joshua is no longer the last Jew in the family. His children, raised in the glow of Torah, all speak Hebrew, love chesed, do mitzvoth, and like the tent of Avraham, their house is a place full of guests. Recently they've begun to establish a regular kosher minyan in their home.
We continue to flourish, thanks to Ohr Somayach; snatched from the fires of assimilation and annihilation, by the rebbe with a voice like an angel and a compassionate wisdom and determination to bring home, the generations of wandering Jews "from our space-less boundaries of loss."
Rav Mendel was visiting with us from Israel when we were hit by a major snow storm. He immediately directed us to go down to the local super market to stock up on food and supplies! Now you have to remember, this was his first trip back to the States in many years.
That Friday night, in his drasha, Rav Mendel (with a smile and twinkle in his eye) recounted the famous gemara about Rav Shimon bar Yochai and his son coming out of the cave after 12 years.
His ability to communicate was in a class by itself. He was able to touch neshamos through his words. He always seemed to have just the right vort for the situation. And he did it with that wonderful sense of humor.
Btw, if any other Yonkers alumni are out there, i'd like to hear your recollections of that visit.
I remember sitting in a shiur with him and with that characteristic smile, he leaned back arms behind his head and asked in all seriousness ""what is today?"" Obviously the talmidim thought Moshe Rabbeinu's yartzreit, perhaps another godal's yartzeit etc. After exhausting all attempts, the Rosh Yeshiva gave us the answer ""ground hogs day"" and then launched into meseches makkos. What a lesson. I will miss him. zechuso yagein aleinu
"Um, Rosh Yeshiva. Tomorrow my flight leaves to return back to the states. I don't know really know what to do."
"How was your time here?" He asks.
I reply, "it was incredible. I had an amazing time with the JLE and everything."
"How were the Shiurim?" He asks me.
"The most amazing teachers and personalities I've ever met."
"And how about Eretz Yisrael? You liked it here?"
"Rosh Yeshiva I loved it."
"Well, Have a great flight back." And here is when his face is buried back into the sefer that he was learning. I remained standing in his office for a few moments feeling quite uncomfortable until finally making the decision that it was time to walk out of his office. On my way out it finally hit me. He had me answer my own question. I had every reason to stay. I never got on that flight. Rav Weinbach quided me through my learning and experience in Yeshiva while trying to convert for years. And I will never forget the day I went to the mikveh. It was so perfectly planned out that the moment I arrived back at yeshiva for the first time as a Yid, there comes Rav Weinbach this tiny little Rabbi to give me the biggest hug I could have ever received. I will never forget it. Nor will I ever forget my Rosh Yeshiva, My teacher, my friend who I miss very much. I hope I will be worthy enough to sit in his shiurim in the next world as I had the greatest honor and pleasure to do in this world.
During my second year in the Derech program at Ohr Somayach, Rav Weinbach's brother passed away. Several of my friends and I went with our Rebbe to be menachem avel. We arrived at his home in the Mattersdorf neighborhood of Jerusalem by bus. This was a man who lived simply. His apartment was clean and orderly, but very modestly sized, with little to distinguish it from its neighbors. This was surprising, to say the least: Rav Weinbach was one of small cadre of rabbis that shaped the last four decades of the Jewish nation. He obviously practiced what he preached.
While we were there, before we gave him the customary, May G-d comfort you, an older gentleman was speaking with the Rav about his past. Before that conversation, I did not know that Rav Weinbach was sent away to Yeshiva in New York at a very young age. Was it difficult?, asked the older man. Rav Weinbach nodded his head slowly. If he had been looking my way, he would have seen me nodding along with him. I was also sent away for high school to a Yeshiva out of town. I knew the answer to the old man's question. Going away from home when you are 14 to a new city, to a Yeshiva with standards far higher than anything you've ever experienced before, is difficult. I realized then that Rav Weinbach had probably experienced everything that I had, and like me, it had become a part of him. Made him stronger. More resilient. More independent. Taught him how to deal with frustration, inadequacy, and unfairness. Taught him to try and be someone great.
Judging from my two years at Ohr Somayach, I have no doubt that Rav Weinbach applied all of his life experience to making Ohr Somayach the greatest place it could ever be. My thanks to the Yeshiva, and its outstanding hanhala, for allowing me to give my small voice in this tribute to our Rosh Yeshiva.
Second, I learned from you a deeper meaning of gratitude. Today I have the nachas of observant children and grandchildren, some of whom are living in Eretz Yisrael.
Third, I learned from you the idea that when doing for others one should always ask, Did I do enough? After spending a year at Ohr Somayach, my wife and I returned to the US and eventually moved to New Jersey where a friend and I co-founded an adult outreach program that just completed twenty nine years. Of the thousands of students who have passed through this outreach program, hundreds of families today are shomrei mitzvoth with children and grandchildren who learn in yeshivas all over the US and in Israel. Their observant roots go back to you, Reb Mendel. They did not know you nor did you know them, yet these families are also part of your legacy along with the innumerable others whose lives you touched and the generations who will follow. From me and your talmidim, thank you Reb Mendel.
The personality of Ohr Somayach and the personality of Rav Weinbach were one and the same. Throughout history, almost all great leaders and personalities have become ensnared by the thirst for power and honor. Rav Weinbach was the opposite. His simplicity and humility were legendary. Rather than chasing after honor, he fled from its enticements. He did not proselytize, he did not engage in polemics. He firmly believed that Torah sold itself. Not pre-packaged superficial Torah ideas, but rigorous, in-depth analysis of the original sources in the original language. The charisma that characterized Ohr Somayach was the charisma of learning, not of personality.
Rav Weinbach always pushed others on the staff to center stage, both in Israel and abroad. But I always appreciated, first as a student, then as a staff member that there was no question, no sugya in Shas, no issue in hashkafa or halacha, and no issue in contemporary society or politics which eluded the Rosh Yeshiva's knowledge and insight. Even with little formal secular education, the Rosh Yeshiva's encyclopedic knowledge of secular wisdom and culture allowed him to relate to all the university-trained students of Ohr Somayach.
Rav Weinbach also personified another characteristic of Torah greatness: the ability to relate to and advise every talmid as a unique individual. Torah is truth, but that truth is multi-dimensional and must fit the individual and his unique circumstances.
In those formative years, we truly felt like sons, not students. There were times when the truth was hard to swallow, when discipline was necessary. Yet we always appreciated the Rosh Yeshiva's commitment to the truth and integrity of the Torah perspective.
Rav Weinbach once told me that no one was irreplaceable. For once, I must disagree. The Rosh Yeshiva will always be remembered, but he will never be replaced.
Over the past 13 years the Rosh Yeshiva has been a guide and mentor for me in every aspect of my professional and personal life. There was no question that was too large or too small. Be it in areas of kiruv, chinuch or just personal growth. He had such chochma; every eitza was so clear and thought out. His advice was always spot on.
I would make an effort to come to Eretz Yisroel to visit the Rosh Yeshiva every couple of years. The purpose of these trips was to get chizuk and recharge my batteries. He would spend 3-4 hours a day learning with me during those visits. On one occasion he had just gone through a series of treatment and was very weak, but he knew how much our learning meant to me and therefore pushed himself to be there. How I cherish those times I spent with him.
What a loss Rav Mendel's petirah is for all Klal Yisroel, but in particular for all those who had the privilege of knowing this godol.
I felt he took such an interest and pride in everything that I did. I cannot start to express the hakoras hatov that I have for all that he has done for me.
My tefillah is that together with all his precious talmidim, we should be zoche to continue the harbotzas hatorah that he so passionately lived for. Yehi Zichro Boruch
Arieh Berlin, Melbourne, Australia
One day a group of top rabbis were all locked onto a difficult point in the sugya of the Gemara at hand ... no one seemed to know how to unravel a rather sticky problem when Rav Mendel came up the stairs from the ground floor office of the Tidhar Street Beit Medresh to look for a bochur who had just received a phone call from the States from his parents.
As Rav Mendel was scanning the room, allowing his finger tips to do the walking, one of the rabbis leaned over and asked him the group's kasha and without even taking his eyes off from what he was doing Rav Mendel responded with a few words which sent all of the rabbis reeling, some smacking their foreheads with the palms of their hands. My new friend quipped to me that that had sufficiently settled the question for him once and for all.
I recall being at Rav Mendel's table on the morning of Purim during the year the Weinbachs spent in Zichron Yaakov. The discussion was about new arrivals to the yeshiva and how they often reacted negatively to any Torah learning that highlighted the different status of Jews and gentiles . I remember him stating that after a while they grew out of it. Not because of any basic change yet in their American-influenced education, upbringing and outlook but by virtue of the fact that over the span of time spent in the yeshiva they began to appreciate what a Jew really is for the first time in their lives and this altered their perception of the rectitude of those passages in Mishnayot or wherever.
The last year I was in the yeshiva, '79-'80, the Mir Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt"l passed away the day after chanukah. I can still see Rav Mendel standing there in front of the Beis Medrish and making the announcement after shachrit of Rav Shmuelevitz 's petira. Classes were suspended so that we could all attend the levaya. He concluded his remarks by saying to us, "today you will learn what happens when a gadol hador dies." Those words still echo in my mind many years later. How ironically fitting therefore that almost 33 years later to the day the same announcement was made in the same Beis Medrish for our Rosh Yeshiva. I am certain that more than one of the maspidim mentioned him in terms of one of the gedolei hador. "Who is honored? Those who honor others." Another fitting tribute for a man known by so many simply as Rav Mendel.
Rav Mendel was so much more than a Rosh Yeshiva. He was our father. For you were and are the ones who brought us to Torah and to Hashem and without you we would never have made the connection to our true family heritage and roots."
Rav Mendel was a patriarch of the unbelievable and unprecedented phenomenon in Jewish history known as "the ba'al teshuvah movement.
As Yaakov Avinu lay breathing his last in this week's parsha Vayechi, just as he was comforted by the Shma Yisroel that all of his sons rang out together in unison which so convinced Yaakov of the satisfactory conclusion to his own life and of the certainty of the eventual and ultimate blessed outcome of the history of his family in this world, so too as Rav Mendel wends his way upward to take his rightful place in the yeshiva shel ma'alah and goes on to his inestimable eternal reward in gan eden. Every line of Torah we learn, every prayer we daven, every mitzvah we perform, goes with him. For surely they are all his. Ad bias goel tzedek - until the advent of moshiach tzidkenu and binyan bayis shlishi, amen.
It wasn't long before Rav Mendel challenged us with the "button" choice. If we could freeze ourselves in any moment for eternity by just pressing a special button, when would we press it? Would we wait until we were happy, or wealthy, or after some special experience like getting married, having a child, or....? Would we always think that maybe the future will hold a better moment, something more, that things were still incomplete, and premature to "press the button"? He waited for our replies, would we, could we; can the eternity of any moment be comprehended, justified, or accepted as the only everlasting reality? Yet, Rav Mendel would look at us and loudly claim, I would press the button now, when I'm teaching Torah, giving shiur, for that is the moment worthy of eternity. Wow, it wasn't too difficult to understand that to him, this was the most important activity of his life. It made learning from him a special and wonderful experience; he was always on the line. Yet, the intensity wasn't confrontational, it wasn't pushy, no, it was revelation, we were headed to greater clarity.
I sometimes think about his Tisha b'Av shmus: The great artist who painted his masterpiece on the plateau of a mountain. After completing his painting of the beauty surrounding the mountain peak, the artist gazed at his work with tremendous pride and satisfaction. He took a step back to admire its wonder amidst the surroundings. Then, he took another step back to have greater comparative appreciation. Then another step back as he became intoxicated by the combined beauty. His assistant saw that he had backed himself nearly to the edge of the plateau and called to him to stop. Unfortunately, he was entranced and he was oblivious to the warnings. Too far to reach him, the assistant hit the painting, stopping the artist in his tracks, as he began to fill with rage. At that moment he looked around and discovered he was at the very edge of the plateau, within one step of plunging to his death.
We were intoxicated by the presence of our Temple, we were oblivious to the warnings of our prophets, and the destruction shocked us out of our state of taking for granted our deservedness, our lack of total engagement with Torah and mitzvoth, our self-intoxication. Yet, the destruction was of the stones of His house, not of His people, for the road back through teshuvah was still possible.
When we played ball, Rav Mendel was out there at shortstop, second base, and always encouraging us to play better, smarter, and have fun.
When we faced challenges as individuals, or as a student body, Rav Mendel was there to cheer our efforts on to solve the difficulties, giving us insightful perspectives, words of hashkafa, joining the effort as a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.
We had several extensive discussions about some of my life decisions; returning to America, coming to New York; helping to establish the Monsey yeshiva; doing Jewish historical research; going out into the technology profession; He always offered sound advice.
At one of our alumni gatherings in Brooklyn he recalled a lesson he received from Rav Simcha Wasserman back in the days when he joined other Torah Vodaas students starting a program in Los Angeles under Rav Simcha. He spoke of the types of Jews and Judaism they found out west. They were new and improved, like the plastic potato. It looked like a potato, smelled like a potato, even tasted like a potato, but it didn't rot, it didn't spoil, it was new and improved. Really the only significant difference between it and a real potato was that when you planted a plastic potato, it didn't grow, it couldn't reproduce, it was sterile. He warned us that continuity was a special blessing.
We will all miss our Rebbe, Rav Mendel. To us he's still giving shiur, and always will.
May Hashem comfort you among all the mourners in Jerusalem
Ohr Somayach 1989-1990
Unfortunately, my wife and I just suffered a loss, a late-term miscarriage and we were stuck in the hospital waiting for the staff to take care of it, with all of the ramifications. However, the hospital, with one of the busiest maternity wards in the world, taking care of a miscarriage was not on the highest of priorities, and we were stuck waiting in limbo for a very long time. As you can imagine we were not in the greatest of spirits.
As I left the ward for a breather, who did I run into? None other than The Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Mendel, who was leaving the oncology ward after another of his excruciating treatments, being supported by several of his children. He stopped and asked me what I was doing there. I replied that unfortunately we were holed up in the maternity ward (which interestingly was next to the oncology ward) not for reasons of simcha. The Rosh Yeshiva looked stunned for a second and then replied with his loving fatherly gaze - 'HaMakom Yimalei Chesroncha!'
I literally felt that he was actually sharing in my pain. Even after he left I could still feel the compassion and warmth he exuded. I knew that I was not special in this regard, nor that it was reserved exclusively for me, but his fatherly concern was for all of his talmidim.
May his memory be blessed!