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A Giant of a Man

May 8, 2009 | by Rabbi Naftali Schiff

Rav Noach was the most serious man I have ever met.

I am sitting on the plane on the way to Yerushalayim for the funeral of Rav Noach Weinberg zt"l the Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah. Last time I sat on a plane like this was when my Father z"l passed away a few years ago...

This isn't a eulogy, rather a few words that I wanted to write to my children whilst the levaya takes place....

I just wanted to share a few thoughts with you of what this giant of human being was to me and to so many others.

Perhaps that's exactly what he was, a giant. He didn't do things by halves. He didn't mess about. He was the most serious man I ever met, yet he truly loved life and all the gorgeous gifts God has placed in it for our pleasure and fulfillment. He knew how to really laugh and enjoy each and every morsel of life. Despite his seriousness, I am not sure if I ever saw him cry, even though he felt the pain of every Jew and the pain of the God's Divine Presence, so to speak, at every moment. Even when he led our trip to Poland a couple of years ago, at moments when 60 Rabbis where broken in tears, he would stand up and focus on the way forward... He was a leader of men in every sense of the word.

He came from an illustrious rabbinic family but he decided not to "just" stay at home. I have never met a person tougher on himself than the Rosh Yeshiva. He was constantly asking himself not just how to do mitzvot, but "What service does the Almighty want from ME? What is going on with Klal Yisrael? What messages is God sending me? What do we need to do?"


When he was in Yeshiva, he immersed his feet in bowls of freezing water to stay awake and struggle to understand another word of God's Torah.


When he was in Yeshiva, he learned 18+ hours a day. He immersed his feet in bowls of freezing water in order to stay awake and struggle to understand another word of God's Torah. He agonized over the biggest questions, was never satisfied with pat answers and earned an acquisition of Torah himself. Yes, I know they write books about the great leaders of Israel and say things like that, but we merited to know Rav Noach and to be in the presence of true greatness, true leadership, true authenticity, true confidence in the truth of God's Torah and the path of His service.

He was a giant because he "knew what he knew" with what he called "five-finger clarity" (as sure as I know I have five fingers). He knew there was an Almighty God who created every single tiny atom and controlled everything. He would teach everyone the midrash of the angel who taught us all of reality in utero and encourage each and everyone he met into getting in touch with the Truth that each carry inside.

He knew there's a Master of the House before whom we will all ultimately give a final reckoning. In Elul this year he struggled to the Yeshiva to speak to his boys in the Aish HaTorah Beis Hamedrash. He thundered "JUDGMENT DAY! You better watch out! It's coming to all of us! Take the Almighty seriously. Flesh and bones, they don't last. Who would have imagined I would be like this when we stood here last Elul..."

He took God seriously. No bluffing. He couldn't stand bluff. As an "ffb" – someone raised in an observant home -- he taught me to be real with God, that God is a Reality, not a ritual. That EVERYTHING is dependent on God and that the ultimate fulfillment in life can only be in forming a true relationship with Him. That our purpose in this world is to make a kiddush Hashem and bring Klal Yisrael back to its true mission to be an eternal Light unto the Nations.

Rav Noach taught us that there is a time to get up and DO. When teaching about the leadership of Moses, he was so in his element. Paraphrasing the Torah -- Who gave you a mouth and the ability to talk to man in the first place that you say you stutter and you "can't" do it? I gave you the mouth in the first place! Don't you understand that you can't move your little finger without me? You can't eat or drink or think or achieve ANYTHING without me? So, Rav Noach would say, if you get your little ego out of the way and plug into the will of God, NOTHING is TOO BIG for a Jew.

The Almighty has all the money, all the power, all the ability to make anything happen....You just have to genuinely align your thoughts, desires, ambitions with those that God revealed to us in His Torah, and you cannot fail.

This is why he was a giant of a man and had absolutely giant ambitions in life. Rav Noach Weinberg wanted to change the world. He urged us all to be committed to this goal. Why? Because God created this world, He entrusted us, the Jewish People, to become His partners in bringing His world to perfection. To fix up all the hatred and the killing and the cheating and the wars and the selfishness, and He gave us his Instructions for Living in His Torah. It's the manual for fixing the world.

Rav Noach took it so seriously. Of course we're supposed to change the world, and that includes you and your family and your friends and your community and your People and the whole lot!

How? Work it out! Open your mouth and ask God to help you. He has the keys, no one else.

When? Now! You're right, it's not so easy. You've got to be for real. But who are you bluffing anyway? God knows what is good for you and how to help you grow.

Last time I saw Rav Noach zt"l he told me, "You've just got to keep going forward." The Almighty is with us. Keep moving forward, but spend 10% of your time thinking how.

Even though he spent the past few years doing whatever he could to wake us all up to the dire threat of radical Islam, last month he said to me that he felt that God was being kind to us. The threat is there. We must do all we can to fight it on all fronts, however, he felt that God had shown such tremendous kindness and mercy to the Jewish People over the past years that Klal Yisrael would be ok. This was the gentle jovial giant he was. Always a rallying call to battle, yet simultaneously a humble, soft, kind uncle to us all. He was always forgiving of the mistakes we made and totally loyal to those who stood by him.


He must have left behind hundreds of thousands of Jews impacted by the Torah he disseminated and the initiatives he began.


I was thinking a lot about the Rosh Yeshiva the past few days as I struggled with various communal challenges. What would he do now? When I heard the devastating news this morning one of the thoughts that came into mind was his strength of leadership. He had a pureness and clarity of Torah based thought that empowered him to make decisions, stick to them and fight for them all the way. Anyone who knew him felt his palpable passion in all, and had also undoubtedly witnessed his steadfast unbending commitment to that which he saw as correct and true. He would shout and on occasion pound on his desk. When he was right and disagreed he would defend his position like a roused lion. Yet simultaneously he was humility personified. He did not pander for a "place at the table" or for any glory whatsoever, even though his stature was amongst the very greatest leaders of our generation.

He must have left behind hundreds of thousands of Jews impacted by the Torah he disseminated and the initiatives he began. Like Moses who saw an Egyptian beating a Jew; he looked around and saw there was no man, and he smote the Egyptian. If there was no one taking decisive action, he took action. This was the Rosh Yeshiva. Don't jump to the head to be a big shot, if someone else is taking care of the problem. Don't be an activist for the sake of a position. But pay attention. Look to see what's going on with your People. If they're being beaten up, if they're falling by the wayside. And take action.

The Rosh Yeshiva did not shy away from action when the situation demanded he fearlessly lead the charge. One day the extent of his selflessness -- both personal and corporate -- will be revealed. So much more than anyone knows, Rav Noach Weinberg was a fearless fighter and defender of the Jewish People, wherever and whoever they were.

This week is the week of self sacrifice, the week in which the Israelites walked into the sea. It was God who suspended the laws of nature and split the sea, but it took the commitment of the Jewish people to walk forward, to stick to the mission, to have true trust in God for the sea to split before them. As Rav Noach would always tell us, "There's nothing you can do for God! He has it all." But He has given us the privilege to take the minute action it takes to split the sea.

Our enemies are willing to sacrifice for what they believe in. How many of us are willing to really give up for the sake of our fellow Jew, for the sake of God's honor? Rav Noach Weinberg gave up everything in order to do that which he understood to be the most important mission of our generation. He understood that the greatest Chillul Hashem (desecration of God's Name) of all is God's own children turning their back and drifting away. He stood up and pounded on the doors of Jewish leadership near and far -- for 30 years – before anyone began to listen.


He taught me to love every Jew and never to judge. To think and not just jump.


Over the course of 50 years he fought tirelessly for sake of God's beautiful children. As a father of 12 children, a grandfather and great grandfather of so many, he knew and felt the pain of our loving Father who so yearns for His lost children. He brought people together who have gone on to build dozens of worthy institutions the world over. He catalyzed initiatives that have truly changed the Jewish world.

He tried to teach me many things. I don't know if I always heard, but he taught me to love every Jew and never to judge. To think and not just jump. To build a team and recognize each person's talents. To take God seriously and not bluff. To think of God's BIG plans and get out of the way. To focus on the important things and not sweat the small. To stand up for what's right and know when to stand down when wrong.

There is so much more, but I wanted just to share a few of these thoughts .I ask you as a friend, a colleague, a supporter of Aish or as a fellow Jew, please remind me if I forget to act and behave as one of the smallest of Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt"l's students.

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