A Mir Kollel Wife Remembers R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l

A Mir Kollel Wife Remembers R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l

This morning, when I heard that the Rosh Yeshiva of Israel’s largest yeshiva, Yeshivat Mir, had passed away, I began to cry. I never met this great man during his lifetime. But I still felt such a sharp sense of loss over the death of this man who was a living Torah. This man who, despite his long-term struggle with a crippling illness, was one of the greatest contributors to reigniting the great fire of Torah that was nearly entirely extinguished during the Shoah.

Here is what one JewishMOM.com reader, a Mir Kollel wife, shared with me this morning about the Mir Rosh Yeshiva, R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l.

A giant has passed on to the World of Truth.

We hear all the time “Yesomim hayinu v’ein av” (we have become orphans, without a father) but today I really feel it. I feel as broken now as I did when I lost my grandfather last year.

I am certain that books and articles will soon be written, filled with stories about R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel’s tremendous love of Torah and devotion to learning and how he managed to pass on his burning love of Torah to his thousands of students and their families.

I am not equipped to memorialize such a great man. But I would like to try to share some brief anecdotes that provide, I hope, a tiny glimpse, from a woman’s perspective, of the Rosh Yeshiva’s true greatness.

The Rosh Yeshiva was very connected to his many, many talmidim and he cared for them deeply.

On one of our first Shabbosos in Yerushalayim, I accompanied my husband to the Rosh Yeshiva’s house. Even then, more than ten years ago, the Rosh Yeshiva was already so weak from Parkinsons disease that he was lying on his couch.

When we walked in, the Rosh Yeshiva greeted my husband and then turned to me and said, “Thank you for letting your husband come back. We are glad to have him. Here he is like a fish in water” (a reference to the Gemara that a man without Torah is like a fish out of water).

My husband and the Rosh Yeshiva spoke for several minutes and I waited on the side. When they finished speaking, the Rosh Yeshiva motioned for me to come closer to him. He told me with unmistakable seriousness, “If you need a cup of sugar, you know where to come…” I understood from his tone that the Rosh Yeshiva wasn’t really talking about a cup of sugar. He was telling me, a young bride living far from her family in a strange new country, that his door was always open for any concern or problem that I and my family might ever have.

Rabbi Finkel zt"l blessing the son of one of his students before the boy's upsherin.

And, over the years, I saw that the Rosh Yeshiva’s door hasn’t only been open to my husband and me. The Rosh Yeshiva’s door was open to the multitudes of people whom he advised on all areas of life– on personal matters related to family, finances, growth through Torah, as well as urgent matters of life and death.

Several months ago, on the Rosh Yeshiva’s final visit to America, he met a former student whose brother is learning at Yeshivas Mir. The Rosh Yeshiva told him “Regards from your brother, he is my good friend.”

And it was true. The Rosh Yeshiva strived to be a friend as well as father to my husband and to all of his thousands of talmidim.

Years ago, one of the Rosh Yeshiva’s sons heard that his father knew the names of all of his 3000 students. So the son approached his father and asked him if this was true. R’ Nosson Tzvi answered him, “I don’t know if I know all of their names. But I do know that I love each and every one of them!”

Just last night, during a simcha, the Rosh Yeshiva’s name came up, and I heard someone say: “He is a neshama without a guf, a soul without a body.”

The Rosh Yeshiva’s soul now is soaring above a body that could hardly contain it for many years already.

Whenever I saw the Rosh Yeshiva, I was humbled. Despite my personal attempts to be a positive, upbeat person, I can always come up with something to complain about– about my children misbehaving, about our financial struggles, about the aches and pains of pregnancy etc.

But here was a SICK man. Every limb in his body trembled, swayed, and shook. He needed much assistance simply in order to walk or stand, if he could even manage that. His hands flailed at his sides and his head moved uncontrollably. The pain he experienced must have been horrendous. There is a reason that most people in that condition are heavily, heavily medicated.

I have heard that the Rosh Yeshiva tried his hardest to avoid all but the most necessary medications because he didn’t want them to limit his mental capacities and his ability to learn Torah.

Yet, despite the many years of suffering he endured, the Rosh Yeshiva didn’t complain. Not one word. He pushed himself on and on, using any capabilities he still had left in order to spread the light of Torah. In his crippled condition, R. Nosson Tzvi managed every detail of Mir Yeshiva, the largest yeshiva in Israel. Each prospective talmid was interviewed by the Rosh Yeshiva personally for acceptance. The Rosh Yeshiva personally went overseas to collect much-needed funds for the Yeshiva (which is in a very bad financial situation on account of the current recession).

And throughout this all, R. Nosson Tzvi SMILED!

Rabbi Finkel zt"l greets Purim visitors

Another incredible thing about the Rosh Yeshiva was how he was able to understand others’ petty issues even if he saw above them.

At one point, the Rosh Yeshiva asked that bachurim should eat their Shabbos meals at the Yeshiva. One bachur complained that he didn’t like Israeli gefilte fish (which really is different from the American gefilte fish that he was used to). That Shabbos, the entire Yeshiva enjoyed jarred, American-style gefilte fish.

The Rosh Yeshiva was also a man with vision. Years ago, when Mir was housed in one small building, he used to speak of building a “Kiryat Mir,” an entire Mir neighborhood. And over the years, despite the Rosh Yeshiva’s debilitating illness, he managed to oversee the Mir’s growth by leaps and bounds.

Today, the main Yeshiva in Bais Yisrael consists of over 10 buildings, each including a beis midrash, dorm, and dining room, and each of these buildings is packed beyond capacity with students.

There are also branches for younger students in Ramat Shlomo and Brachtfeld. Bli Ayin Hara, there are well over 6,000 men dedicating
their days to learning Torah in Mir daily. All of this Torah learning, thousands and thousands of pages every day, as well as the inspiration this learning provides to thousands of kollel wives, like me, and our children, are all in the merit of Rabbi Finkel’s unstoppable vision, commitment to Torah, and unshakable Yirat Shamayim.

R’ Nosson Tzvi was always trying to increase both the level of Torah learning and the hours spent learning at the Yeshiva. He invested much effort and creativity in this, constantly thinking up new ideas and incentives: programs to promote extra minutes and hours, chaburas, tests, writing of essays on Torah, and much more.

The Rosh Yeshiva told my husband of a boy who confided that he had a hard time getting up for Shachris. The Rosh Yeshiva personally called this boy’s apartment every morning at 6:45 AM to assist him in getting out of bed.

R’ Nosson Tzvi’s favorite song over the last few years has been “Ashrei Mi ShAmlo BaTorah,” fortunate is the man whose toil is through Torah. And R. Nosson Tzvi was certainly fortunate!

The Rosh Yeshiva left our world on the Yartzeit of Rachel Imeinu. He emulated our matriarch by selflessly dedicating every ounce of his being for the greater good of Klal Yisrael. May he be a Meilitz Yoshor for all of the Jewish people.

May we each take inspiration from this great man into our lives and actualize it in a concrete way. In this way, we can finally give back to a man that gave himself for each and every one of us.

Images by Yehuda Boltshauser courtesy of www.Kuvien.com

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