Many people had a teacher who made a big impact on them. The teacher or mashgiach who directed them with love, enthusiasm, or devotion, and left a deep impression that lasts a lifetime. As the new schoolyear begins, Beis Moshiach asked people to tell about a person in chinuch who made an indelible impression on them.
R’ Lipa Klein can’t help but wax nostalgic over the personality of R’ Yisroel Neveler. Even seventy years later, he recalls the special parable he told his pupils.
R’ Shneur Zalman Herzel chose R’ Yosef Abrams as the model of one who lived “Rebbe” and imparted to him a genuine love for the teachings of Chassidus.
R’ Dovid Glazer selected R’ Shneur Zalman Gafni because he told him straight, “I am not sure this place is good for you.”
R’ Chaim Steiner misses the mashpia, R’ Elimelech Zweibel, who was like a father to him in the galus of distant New Jersey.
R’ Aviram Magor chose R’ YY Wilschansky, “who despite the decades that have passed since I was his student, remembers me, and I am still a person of interest to him.”
R’ Oholiav Abutbul chose R’ Moshe Assoulin, who would not give up on a single student, not even at three in the morning in a last review before a test when he lovingly brought them pitas stuffed with goodies.
R’ Lipa Klein – General Secretary of Yeshivas Ohr Simcha
WHY DID THE MELAMED BURST INTO TEARS?
My mechanech: R’ Yisroel Neveler (Levin)
The communist regime and escape from the Nazis dictated the complicated reality of daily life. There was nothing that could be expected to function normally, as it does nowadays.
In my childhood, I learned by various melamdim, and due to the fear of the communists, every little I learned was by a different melamed. This was in addition to learning with my father, R’ Shmuel Menachem Klein. During the only period that I learned in a yeshiva, I learned by the Chassid, the mashpia, R’ Yisroel Levin. He was known by all the Chassidim as R’ Yisroel Neveler for the town of Nevel where he came from. I learned Gemara from him, and heard many Chassidishe stories. This period is engraved in me forever.
It was 5706/1946, shortly after the end of World War II and before the great exodus of Chassidim from Russia. I was only 11 years old when my father brought me to the secret yeshiva of R’ Yisroel Neveler. This yeshiva was part of the Yeshivos Tomchei T’mimim network that was founded at the time, in Tashkent and Samarkand.
The yeshiva was hosted in a house rented from a local non-Jew. Under difficult conditions we, twenty or so students, sat and learned Gemara and Halacha, and on Fridays we learned the parsha. R’ Yisroel taught us all this while constantly spicing the material with Chassidishe stories that gave us a special Chassidishe chayus. Unlike today, we had few sefarim and two or three talmidim learned out of one volume.
We learned the tractate Bava Kama with him; Gemara, Rashi and a little bit of Tosafos. R’ Yisroel, with his wisdom and patience, would explain things again and again until he was confident that all the students understood.
Who were my classmates? I will enumerate some of them: Nachman Sudak, Avrohom Shemtov, Berel Mochkin, Shmarya Pruss, Berel Futerfas, Zushe Gross, Elozor Garelik, Yosef Kugel, Chaim Ratovsky, Avrohom Ratovsky, Yosef Greenberg.
R’ Yisroel, despite being a mashpia and big scholar, who was listened to with great respect by Anash, taught young children for years. Once, one of the students expressed his surprise over this and R’ Yisroel responded with a story that is etched in my soul till today.
It happened that a fundraiser went to a rich man to ask for a donation. The rich man told him to go to his secretary who would give him the money. The fundraiser asked the rich man to mark down on a paper how much he was giving, but the rich man said, “If I knew how to read and write, I would not have achieved what I have today.”
The rich man went on to say, “I was orphaned at a young age and having no choice, went looking for work. After endless hunting, a gabbai in a shul had pity on me and agreed to take me on as his personal assistant. He began explaining to me what I needed to do. Among other things, he told me to mark down the amounts of donations that people gave to the shul.
“I told him that I don’t know how to read and write, so I couldn’t do that. The disappointed gabbai sent me away. Having no choice, I went to the market and found work. I eventually opened my own business and that is how I became a rich man.”
That was the mashal and R’ Yisroel Neveler explained to us, who swallowed every word he said, what the nimshal is:
“I arrived in Tashkent together with R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman and together we began teaching young children. I did well with the children and thus, I am a teacher till today. He did not do as well with them so he became a mashpia to Anash.”
One of the first images etched in my mind of R’ Yisroel Neveler is of a shiur on the parsha that took place Erev Shabbos Parshas Pinchas, the summer of 1946, shortly before he left Tashkent on the way to leave Russia. R’ Yisroel read the Rashi (28:2), “Mashal to a princess who died,” and suddenly burst into tears. He cried for a long time and it wasn’t possible to calm him.
Why did he cry? Probably because most of his children died or were killed, each for a different reason. One of his daughters disappeared and was never found and some thought she was kidnapped. When R’ Yisroel read about the princess who died, he recalled his daughter and sobbed.
R’ Zalman Herzel, mashpia and author
My mechanech: R’ Yosef Abrams
In Elul 5745/1984, when I moved up to shiur gimmel in yeshiva k’tana [mesivta] in Lud, I began learning Chassidus by R’ Yosef Abrams. I had no idea how great his influence would be on my chinuch and shaping my character from a Chassidishe perspective. When I was in shiur alef and beis, he seemed like a strict mashpia to me, who was unwilling to compromise on the Chassidus learning session for anything, ever. Even if it involved missing the shiur for Chassidishe reasons, he did not accept that. It was only after I learned by him for an entire year, a year in which he made the learning of Chassidus beloved to us, and he instilled in us a Chassidishe hergesh, that I looked at his strictness over the learning of Chassidus no matter what, in a different light.
Along with the hergesh in learning Chassidus, R’ Abrams instilled in us the need for understanding, to absorb the haskala within Chassidus. He himself was a big maskil in Chassidus and although he never tried to call attention to it, he was unable to hide the delight that radiated from his face while learning Chassidus.
At the beginning of the year, when we learned the “Ani L’Dodi” maamarim with him, we saw a person who lived with what he taught, and was especially enthused by the haskalos and the chiddushim that the Rebbe extracted from the text, revealing new insights in the mashal about the king in the field. One time, after a few cups of l’chaim, I heard him say that when the Rebbe says an inyan of haskala in Chassidus, it revives me …
My knowledge of Tanya I owe to him. On the one hand, he wanted constant progress, chapter after chapter, in order to cover as much as possible in the school year. On the other hand, he “kneaded” the chapters of Tanya into our young brains. He was particular about briefly reviewing what we learned in earlier chapters, summarizing the words of the Alter Rebbe in a clear way.
He also made sure we arrived on time, even if he had to fine us. He did not give in. He would always say, “You need to learn Chassidus!” Although that sounds rather simple and even a bit trite in the Chabad yeshiva world, he would say it in a certain tone as though to convey: It is impossible to refrain from it.
R’ Abrams presented the chayus and haskala in the learning of Chassidus, cloaked in effervescent Chassidic “flavor,” mainly through long farbrengens on Shabbasos late in the day. While the shiur alef and beis farbrengens ended when the stars appeared, with R’ Abrams there were no limits. The entire class would wash hands about an hour before sunset, and the farbrengen would last a good few hours, sometimes until 10:00 and even 11:00 at night. This happened even in the winter.
At these farbrengens he instilled in us the fundamentals of Chassidus and much Chassidic “flavor.” First, he instilled hiskashrus to the Rebbe. Every farbrengen began with a summary of the Rebbe’s sichos on the Shabbos or holiday we were marking. Only then did he go on to the rest of the farbrengen which was interspersed with Chassidishe stories. When we heard a story from him, it was possible to sense how he “lived” with the story and the messages that it was possible and necessary to learn from it. You couldn’t miss it.
For example, he told us at a farbrengen at the end of the winter z’man, before Pesach, about the Chassid, R’ Yekusiel Liepler, to whom the Tzemach Tzedek sent matzos, wine for the four cups and the other Pesach necessities. R’ Yekusiel, who was preoccupied with b’dikas chametz, including, of course, examining his “inner chametz,” did not pay attention to what the person brought him. He heard just one thing, that the Rebbe sent it. Being immersed in a different world, he immediately took what he got and ate it. R’ Yekusiel did not realize what he was eating and the next day he wondered why the Tzemach Tzedek did not send him these items as he did every year.
Pesach night, R’ Yekusiel went to the Rebbe and asked why he hadn’t gotten the matza and other seder items which he received every year. After the Tzemach Tzedek made inquiries, the Rebbe’s aide reminded R’ Yekusiel that he had indeed given him those very items. He then recalled it and said: Ah, it revived me! Meaning that it helped him in the avoda that he was involved in at the time.
With particular chayus, R’ Abrams told this story again and again. After the farbrengen went on for some hours, and after some l’chaims, he repeated the story with all the details, and once again, with the same chayus, he emphasized how you need to drop everything and hurry to carry out the Rebbe’s instructions and desires. He said this with such a chayus, as though it was the first time he was conveying the story and message. And when the farbrengen was over and we escorted him on his way, from the yeshiva to his home in Shikkun Chabad, he stopped along the way and said: You must hear this story … And he animatedly repeated the entire story …
On a personal level, I merited to be one of the bachurim involved that year in the publication of the Haaros HaT’mimim pamphlets. And since R’ Abrams was the one appointed by the yeshiva to be responsible for the publication, I saw up close just how much he invested and was particular about every detail in the publication, in order to give greater nachas to the Rebbe. He took it in a deeply personal way, that everything should come out in the best possible way, in terms of content and the actual printing. He invested many hours into this.
Despite the fact that there were not many Chassidim in those years who were involved in the topics of Moshiach and Geula with a passion, R’ Abrams was already then involved with a unique enthusiasm. He learned the laws of Moshiach in the Rambam in deep analytic fashion, time and again dissecting the categorizations of chezkas Moshiach and Moshiach vadai. There were fascinating discussions that took place between him and his friends, R’ Moshe Havlin of Kiryat Gat and R’ Yissochor Dovid Kloisner of Nachlas Har Chabad. They discussed and delved into this topic based on the sichos of the Rebbe, and their ongoing give-and-take was published in the Haaros HaT’mimim.
As mentioned before, in unique fashion, R’ Abrams imbued in us, without words, hiskashrus to the Rebbe. I emphasize “without words,” because he did not “lecture” us about it during the Chassidus classes or the farbrengens. He simply beamed it out. His entire being, all of his enthusiasm, broadcast this message. We could see his total self-nullification to the directives of the Rebbe, down to the smallest details. The following is a small anecdote, which showed us tangibly that for him, the Rebbe comes before everything else: On those special days, when we were scheduled to listen in the predawn hours to a live broadcast of the Rebbe’s farbrengen, he would go to sleep early in order to be alert during the farbrengen, and be able to hear the Rebbe with a clear head.
For us, knowing how much he valued Chassidic farbrengens with the bachurim, and despite the fact that other classes would hold their own farbrengens on those nights, he would not. We got the message that no matter how wonderful it may be for Chassidim to farbreng among themselves, hiskashrus to the Rebbe comes before and is higher than everything else, and the Rebbe you need to hear, listening attentively and focusing entirely, in order to absorb every word. After the broadcast, he would enjoy discussing with the bachurim the novel insights that the Rebbe had revealed in the new maamar, whether it was a new installment in Basi L’Gani or any other maamar. That is how he conveyed through his very being, and implanted within us, hiskashrus to the Rebbe.
R’ Dovid Glazer, writer and lecturer, Nachlas Har Chabad
THE TRIAL PERIOD THAT LASTED SEVEN YEARS
My mechanech: R’ Shneur Zalman Gafni, Rosh Yeshiva
I arrived in Eretz Yisroel from the United States in 5734/1974. I was on a spiritual journey and sought a Judaism that would connect me to my neshama. I wandered around Yerushalayim and, one by one, checked out all the yeshivos for English-speaking baalei teshuva that existed at the time, but did not find what I was looking for. In each place, something bothered me. It wasn’t always clear to me what that was, but I knew that it wasn’t what I was looking for. When I spoke with roshei yeshivos and staff members, I felt that they only wanted me in their yeshiva, in their group, if I would adopt their way of Judaism. I felt that each one looked at things from his own perspective.
One day, I told a friend, a Litvishe bachur, what was on my mind. He said, “In Kfar Chabad there is a rabbi by the name of Gafni. Go to him.” I went to Kfar Chabad and met the man who would become the person who changed my life.
My first encounter with R’ Gafni was in yeshiva. I told him my story and he sat and listened. Really listened. I finished my story and then he said: Listen, I am not sure that this place is good for you, but we’ll make an experiment. Do a trial period in yeshiva and then we’ll decide together what to do next.
R’ Gafni’s answer immediately grabbed me. I had gone to many yeshivos and this was the first time that I was talking to a rabbi who wasn’t trying to convince me to join his yeshiva or belong to his following of talmidim. I stayed and began learning, and felt that this was precisely what I was looking for.
There was tremendous depth and it captivated me. I started learning Chassidus and discovered the depth of Judaism. The line that R’ Gafni used most was, “Lubavitch munt p’nimius (Lubavitch demands inner awareness). He constantly demanded p’nimius of us and taught us to examine the depth of everything. The combination of Chassidus and R’ Gafni’s unusual depth of thinking fascinated me.
R’ Gafni’s educational approach also captivated me and actually was the cause for the course of life that I chose. He promoted slow and thought-out progress in accordance with the capacity for absorption and retention of the student. He helped us progress and grow in the manner of going up a ladder, rung by rung. He never skipped stages, never looked for shortcuts, detours or easy roads. We progressed step by step, slowly but surely. He never pressured me in any way whatsoever. He always explained things clearly and gave me the possibility of choosing. I remember that I even received an answer and bracha from the Rebbe about a certain thing, but something was blocking me. I was afraid to move forward and refused to move in the direction the Rebbe had instructed. R’ Gafni spoke with me and said it was my choice to listen to the Rebbe or not, but that I should take into consideration that if I did not listen, he would no longer be able to take responsibility and advise me. Only the thought of disconnecting from R’ Gafni got me to take the step for which today, I thank G-d a thousand times a day.
As far as the trial period, it lasted seven years, three years as a bachur and another four in kollel in Kfar Chabad. It wasn’t a simple matter. R’ Gafni interceded with R’ Efraim Wolf and convinced him every year to approve another year in kollel for me. This was upon my request, so I could continue under R’ Gafni’s direct guidance.
Throughout these years, R’ Gafni took care of me just as a father would. This was very strongly manifested in the period of shidduchim. I was a young bachur, alone in Eretz Yisroel, far from my family both physically and emotionally. I had so many doubts and difficulties and he was along for the ride with all the suggestions, until boruch Hashem, he led me to the chuppa.
The special connection between us continues till today. Although he now lives in Tzfas and I live in Kiryat Malachi, I try to visit him now and then, and not miss farbrengens. Without a doubt, he is the educator who had the greatest influence on my life.
R’ Chaim Steiner, Deputy Mayor of Kiryat Malachi
A MASHPIA WHO IS A FATHER
My mechanech: the mashpia, R’ Elimelech Zweibel
The mashpia, R’ Elimelech Zweibel, was like a father to me during the period when I left Eretz Yisroel for the first time in my life, close to forty years ago.
I was born in Yerushalayim to a chareidi family, and during my time in yeshiva I became close to Chabad. At a certain point, I felt that the time had come to switch to a Chabad yeshiva. I am grateful to R’ Tuvia Blau for suggesting and arranging for me to learn in the Chabad yeshiva in Morristown. And so, at age 19, I left the holy city in which I was born and raised and educated, and I left Eretz Yisroel for the first time and went to learn in yeshiva in Morristown.
The initial conditions were quite complicated for me, far more than for any other bachur who was there at the time. It’s pretty easy to imagine, a young bachur arrives from Yerushalayim straight to America, without the language or any knowledge of the local mentality, at the same time that he is first entering the world of Chabad with all that entails.
That is where R’ Meilich Zweibel, who passed away earlier this year, entered the picture.
R’ Zwiebel was literally like a father to me, both materially and spiritually. I am not talking about helping me at a given point, or supporting me through some specific issue. He literally walked me with “ways of sweetness” and infinite patience into the world of Chabad, while concerning himself with all of my material needs.
During the period that I learned in Morristown, I felt that there was someone looking out for me. R’ Zwiebel asked me time and again about my material conditions, about the challenges of language, about making friends and keeping in touch with my folks back home. Sometimes this would be when having personal conversations, and sometimes just when we bumped into each other in the yeshiva. He always found a way, with gentleness and wisdom, to find out if everything was okay with me.
Just as with my material welfare, the same was with my spiritual wellbeing, primarily in the study of Chassidus which was new for me. Although I had tasted of the teachings of Chassidus when I began to get involved with Chabad, it had not prepared me for studying Chassidus for hours a day. All around me were students who had been learning Chassidus already from a young age, and they were familiar with all of the concepts, and I was the only one who did not understand basic concepts of Chassidus.
There were times that I sat in the Chassidus class of R’ Zwiebel without understanding a single thing. However, in his great wisdom, he knew to throw in, here and there, an explanation or a small addition that was intended for me. He did it without stating openly that it was for my benefit, but I knew that it was said special for me, and so I too was able to understand what was being learned. At the same time, he devoted a lot of time to me and we had many personal talks in which, with his trademark patience and calm, he opened a window for me into the study of Chassidus. He taught me concepts, clarified for me what are the “ways of Chassidus,” explained Chabad customs, and walked me step by step into the world of Chabad.
Over time, I began to feel that I was changing from being an “ignoramus” in Chassidus into someone who knows and understands the concepts, the reasons for the customs, and obviously all that a Chassid needs to know about the Rebbe and hiskashrus.
In my current position as Deputy Mayor of Kiryat Malachi, I frequently visit schools and sit on a number of panels that deal with education. From the bit that I have learned, I would like to offer the following recommendation to all educators and teachers: Please, do all that is in your power to become close to the students, and relate to each one as if he were your own child. It is true that we need to maintain discipline in the classroom, but the primary goal should be to draw the student close in a fatherly and loving fashion.
R’ Aviram Magor
HEARING WHAT IS IN THE HEART OF THE STUDENT
My mechanech – R’ YY Wilschansky, Rosh Yeshiva
My first significant meeting with R’ Wilschansky was as a skinny youth, when I came to be tested for yeshiva g’dola (beis medrash). I am the oldest boy in my family so I had no older brothers in the yeshiva and I was nervous. R’ Wilschansky had me come to his house, to his study, for the exam. I was alone, but R’ Wilschansky made me feel as relaxed as possible. I felt that he was accepting me as I am, that he wasn’t trying to test me. I simply felt loved by him.
This continued after I was accepted as a talmid in the yeshiva. It is a very personal relationship which is hard to find in yeshivos g’dolos. Later on, when I spoke with my friends, I realized that it wasn’t just me, but how everyone felt.
One of the special things I picked up from R’ Wilschansky is his educational approach. On the one hand, R’ Wilschansky ran the entire yeshiva with a firm hand; on the other hand, he knew how to relate to everyone individually, and to adapt the educational policy to each student, providing him exactly what he needed.
As far as I was concerned, he reached me in the exact place that I needed. He knew how to neutralize all the inner turmoil and reach your heart. Today, when I am in chinuch and I find myself in difficult situations with children and bachurim, even when there is a lot of chaos around, I think of the rosh yeshiva and I am reminded how he acted with me. Boruch Hashem, this approach has proven to be effective.
Till today, we still have a warm relationship. When we meet, he remembers me and he always asks me questions and takes an interest in me. This is despite the fact that twenty years have passed since I left the yeshiva. I feel that I still interest him. From my perspective, this is a fitting complement to how he treated me in yeshiva. When you feel that it does not end at the conclusion of shiur gimmel, but continues for decades, you realize that this isn’t simply a tactical approach, but a matter of character, a way of life for a preeminent educator.
When I was in shiur gimmel, my father was very sick. I went through an extremely difficult time. I had to handle household work and outside work in order to support the family, and to run between hospitals. I had to leave yeshiva for half a year. R’ Wilschansky would call and ask what’s going on, how are things, how is my father. When he saw that the situation was dragging on, he suggested that I come to yeshiva for weekends so I would not be completely cut off from yeshiva, and that’s what I did.
Another thing that accompanies me till today is everything connected with Moshiach and the belief that the Rebbe is chai v’kayam. On Gimmel Tammuz 5754, we were in shiur gimmel in yeshiva k’tana (mesivta) in Tzfas. As soon as we heard the news, the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Yitzchok Isaac Landau, sent us to the mikva because Moshiach is coming. I remember running to the Sanz mikva in the old city and feeling jealous of the bachurim who were returning from the mikva already and would see Moshiach before I did.
In the evening, we went upstairs to the yeshiva g’dola. There was great confusion. Some cried and there were those who were infused with faith like R’ Wilschansky. He farbrenged there all night. It was a huge event, so that today, after twenty-three years, when I feel that I need to strengthen my emuna, I remember R’ Wilschansky farbrenging all night, talking about Moshiach, about the Rebbe being here, and that we are the seventh generation and this is all concealment, reviewing the Rebbe’s sichos and the weekly D’var Malchus and repeating that everything the Rebbe said would happen, and this reignites my spark.
R’ Oholiav Abutbul, Director of Beis Moshiach in Eretz Yisroel
REB MOSHE’S APPROACH
My mechanech: R’ Moshe Assoulin
The beginning was not exactly ordinary or expected. “Close the Gemaras,” we were told by R’ Moshe Assoulin, the teacher of the first-year class (shiur aleph) of yeshiva k’tana (mesivta) Achei T’mimim in Kfar Chabad. It was our first day in yeshiva. The excitement was plain to see on the faces of all thirty students who filled the classroom, and had just bought their first Gemara to be used in their new world, the world of the yeshiva. We were all tensed for our first encounter with the “big boys,” the T’mimim, who were figures to be admired from our exciting days in camp, which had just ended.
We were so pumped up on the first day of yeshiva that there was not even a momentary sign of tiredness to be seen among us. The adrenaline was at a peak, and we were waiting for it all to begin already. In our imagination, we pictured a serious rebbi with a flowing beard who would inundate us with Gemara concepts that only the greats discuss, and we would be nodding our heads like familiar experts in that world, since after all we were now grown up… In addition, there was the feeling that whoever smiles less is to be considered more mature and more studious.
And then he arrived. We stood up for him upon his entrance in awe and respect, but he asked us to close the Gemaras. I can’t recall word for word what he said, but the gist was quite clear. Here, we are not demanding of you to be what you are not, but to be yourself. This is not a break for beginners or young students; this is what is demanded of you on a daily basis, and every moment of the day—that you utilize your strengths that you have, which express who you are.
In the days that followed, he introduced us, in a gentle way, to the world of complex Talmudic logic. The lengthy classes – two hours straight – fascinated us to an exceptional degree. The desire that burned within him (and continues to burn to this day, just ask his students) for the sweetness of the Gemara, infected all of us. It was impossible to remain apathetic and not dive in with him into the analytic world of Rashi, Tosafos, and the commentaries.
At the end of each month, there was a final exam on all of the material covered in the past month. You can’t compare a test in shiur aleph by R’ Assoulin to the tests in any of the other classes. It was something else entirely. Night after night, he would push us to steal away from the hours of sleep and diligently review the material. With one hand, he would arrange with the night monitor to “look the other way,” and with the other hand, he would surprise those who were still learning at three in the morning with pitas filled with all sorts of goodies.
He didn’t have to ask it of us, but we knew that we did not want to disappoint him by getting a lower mark than on the previous test. Before the test, we would say T’hillim and write to the Rebbe to ask for a bracha. He managed to infect us, young kids 13-14 years old, with seriousness and diligence. The test would take an entire day (and at times, don’t laugh, those who did not finish would come to the living room in his house to complete the test).
That is what the teacher of our class was like.
But more than anything else, the line that was branded deeply into me, is the one that he said at the conclusion of that first class, “I am here to not go easy on you.”
From the very first instant he stuck to his word. Not even for a fraction of a second did he go easy on us.
During the learning session, when we were all sitting in the main study hall trying to review what we had learned in class, he would continue to work. He would go from one pair of study partners to the next. Seeing to it that the boy who was less familiar with the subject matter should learn with one who already had it clear. Moving and refitting pieces like with Lego, making matches and breaking up pairs, absolutely prohibiting us from sitting next to someone on the same level.
It did not budge him in the least when we would get angry at him or make an annoyed face because he had broken up a pair. To him this was the ABC of a Tamim in a Chabad yeshiva, to be concerned for a friend that didn’t quite get the subject matter.
With time, I came to appreciate him all the more, for this trait of not giving in to anyone and especially not giving up on anyone.