This past Shabbos, my Rosh Yeshivah (head of Yeshivas Toras Simcha), Rav Asher Rubenstein passed away without warning. He slipped and fell, breaking his femur during the big snowstorm, and he passed away ten days after the operation from post-op complications.
It was a big shock for thousands of people around the world.
Being that the custom in Yerushalayim is to bury the deceased the same day, the funeral was scheduled to begin at 11 p.m., after Shabbos. There are three of us living here who learned together in Toras Simcha, and one owns a car, so we packed up food and headed south. We returned at 4a.m.
We all have lost people that we’ve known and loved. Never have I lost somebody who has taken such a big role in how my life has been shaped until now.
Two things made it a little extra strange. Shabbos night, only a few hours before his death, he was in my dream, smiling and laughing, telling somebody that I was a good friend of his; second, his funeral was exactly nine years to the night that I was standing under the chuppah with my wife, while he officiated the marriage.
Rav Asher was known for saying things straight out (which many these days don’t appreciate). However, that specifically is why I chose his yeshivah to go to when I moved here. His honesty, humor, and warmth, earned him thousands of students throughout the world. Most students will honestly think that THEY were one of the closest to him, because he not only made them FEEL that way, but because they all ARE. When my wife called his wife to offer condolences, she started with, “Hello, this is Malka Winner from…” and was cut off with, “I know where you’re from! Every time my husband spoke with yours, he kept me up to date with everything going on in your lives!”
Not only is the yeshivah that he founded and its staff the central reason I am where I am, but also because of his personal direction. As a close student of Rav Shmuel Auerbach, Rav Schach & Rav Chatzkal Levenstein (among others), he was known to push people to stay in full-time learning as much as possible. He “strangely” believed that Hashem wants His people to learn and live Torah. In fact, one … institution…, who “lost” several of its students to Rav Asher, banned their students from attending any of his lectures or listening to his tapes. But for all his talk about the importance of staying in learning for as long as possible, he always advised people based on who they were. He has many “workingmen” as alumni who he was always in contact with. It was he who originally told me to start working at night to support my learning during the day. While he personally lived according to his level of faith in Hashem, his advice to others was based on their level.
A good friend of mine, when interviewing for the yeshivah, asked Rav Asher if he will get college credits for the year. Rav Asher smiled and replied, “Yes… you can get credits. But by the time I’m done with you, you won’t need them!” Ten years later, that same person is still living in Israel, learning in kollel, and supporting himself as a repairman at night. He never bothered to go to college.
Rav Asher’s goal was to create Bnei Torah who would excel in ALL areas of Judaism, be it in learning, davening, personal development, etc. He wanted TRUE development and was not interested in anything fake. In fact, the rule was, if you didn’t have a beard or payos when you joined the yeshivah, you were not allowed to grow them in yeshivah. He once told a friend, “Here in Toras Simcha, we’re not interesting in ‘yeshivish’… we want FANATICS!”
In case you couldn’t tell, this is all one big ramble. There’s so much to say, and I have no way of expressing it properly. Rav Asher was somebody who personally changed my way of thinking and the entire direction in my life. I have been in constant contact with him with questions or just to ‘keep in touch’, and it’s because of him that I have just entered my tenth year in kollel. It is because of him that my marriage is the way it is and that my children are being educated as they are. It is because of him I have a better concept of proper faith in Hashem and Torah. He didn’t just “preach” faith, rather he LIVED it, and he wanted everybody else to live it as well.
Every Thursday night for who knows how many years, Rav Asher gave a special talk to a group of people. Since I couldn’t come, he gave me permission to receive a recording of it; so for years now, I have listened to his talks every erev Shabbos, and many of those have been passed on here, and that is something I will miss.
For a more articulated essay on him, I refer you to an article a friend put together:
It’s worth the read and may we all take something from it.
“You will then be able to confide to your children and grandchildren how I made fools of the Egyptians, and how I performed miraculous signs among them. You will then fully realize that I am G-d” (Shemos 10:2).
One of the many reasons that Hashem provided ten, very detailed, plagues against Egypt was so it would be engraved in our hearts and we will tell it over to our children. Had it been a one-time event, it could have easily been forgotten. However, 10 months of ongoing plagues, is something that is hard to miss. Rav Asher would say that this serves two purposes in strengthening our emunah (faith).
The first is pretty straight forward. Most religions generally are started by the word of one or a few people. Somebody comes along, has a prophecy, and convinces others that he’s correct. Christianity and Islam, for example, cannot and do not claim that things happened en masse to their fathers and grandfathers. Only the Torah is so “bold” to say, “Ask your fathers! Look what I did to Egypt!” Torah, with such a bold statement, cannot be handed down from a prophet and given to an entire nation. What is he going to say? “Nu? You and your fathers were in Egypt and I gave the Egyptians 10 months of pure heck! What? You don’t remember?”
The second reason that we received such an abundance of miracles is as the pasuk states, that we should TALK about it to our children. The more we talk about the good that Hashem does for us, the more it makes a mark, not only on the hearts of the listener, but also on the heart of the speaker.
This is a wonderful way to help strengthen our emunah in Hashem, by constantly, on a daily basis if possible, going over some of the good that He has done for us, to remind ourselves of the personal miracles that we have experienced. When we speak to our children about the good that Hashem gives to us, THEY learn to look for the good as well, and THEY, in turn, are strengthened.
A strong “back-bone” of emunah will always be a beacon of light even in the darkest of times.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!