Rav Noach's Students Remember, Part One

May 8, 2009

16 min read


Stories and reminiscences from students around the world.

Reach the Ceiling
By Rabbi Yitz Greenman, Aish New York

I started studying at Aish HaTorah Jerusalem when I was 20. In the first weeks being there Rabbi Weinberg took me to his home one evening to help build his Sukkah and have dinner. Upon entering his apartment we were confronted with the vision of his seven-year-old son climbing a pipe in the corner of the living room, trying to reach the ceiling. He was stuck at around six feet in the air and not getting any higher.

Thinking of what would happen if this happened in my home, I had pity on the boy. He was in for it. As Rabbi Weinberg approached his son I was bracing myself for how he would respond.

He got right next to his son, bent over a bit and said, "Stand on my shoulders and I'll help you reach the ceiling."

Rabbi Weinberg was a spiritual giant who helped all of his children reach for the ceiling.

I was floored. Parents don't help their kids climb to reach ceilings; parents scold kids for doing foolish things like climbing pipes. Rabbi Weinberg was a spiritual giant who helped all of his children reach for the ceiling. Every Jew he came into contact with was another opportunity for him to reach out and share and care and give. He was the ultimate giver, never holding back himself on anything he had in his possession. He lived to give and to help every Jew reach the ceiling.

I am forever indebted to him for guiding me lovingly for the past 25 years. May Hashem comfort his family, the Jewish people and may his memory be a blessing.

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My First Encounter
by Aryeh Markman, Los Angeles

I remember the first time I met the Rosh Yeshiva. I was told there was a really wise man teaching at this yeshiva. I did not want to go back to Sunday school again. I did not even like the idea of being around religious Jews. I was as assimilated as they come. But if you are in Paris you visit the Louvre and if you are in Rome you visit the Vatican, so I guess if you are in Jerusalem one might as well visit a yeshiva. I did not even know what a yeshiva was; I had never had heard the term.

So I went and sat with eight other guys in a room and in walked the Rosh Yeshiva to teach his famous 48 Ways that of course I never had heard of either. He did not see me right away. I took one look at him and thought, Wow, Santa Claus in black and white! Sorry, but he was. I thought, Oh boy, here it comes. Get ready for some JUDAISM! Yuck!

And then he began to speak and intersperse his talk with rhetorical questions that got me thinking about things. Slowly I felt myself getting drawn in and interested and began to open up inside and then we locked eyes. Kapow! Those eyes said so much. Here was a deep, knowing person who understood so much. In the nanosecond that I first gazed into his eyes, I felt his integrity, his truthfulness, his wisdom. I had finally met someone who really understood me better than I understood myself. While I strove to disagree with him in class and challenged his points, I knew I was hooked. It would take a while before I eventually took the plunge into the Torah world, but at that moment I knew it was only a matter of time and personal courage.

The Rosh Yeshiva introduced to me the then novel concept that life has meaning, that the Almighty is always talking to us and that we have to try to understand the messages.

"You can raise 100 million dollars, but you don't think you can. Is the Almighty a pauper that he can not give you the money?"

The Rosh Yeshiva always told me and others, "You can raise 100 million dollars, but you don't think you can. Is the Almighty a pauper that he can not give you the money? He has the money and He wants to give it. It is nothing to Him. He owns the entire Universe. He is not giving you the money because you don't think He can. The problem is not with the Almighty, the problem is with you. Now go work on why you don't think He can give you the money."

He would love to say, "Don't ask what you can do for God, ask rather what will you let God do for you? It's His pleasure. He is your Father in Heaven. He wants to give to you and you are not letting him."

He would call me up on the phone out of the blue and ask "Aryeh, who loves you more than anyone?"

"My wife? My parents? My children?"

"Nope," he would say. "The Almighty loves you Aryeh. He loves you for you. Just because. Don't you love your children just because? Especially when they have chocolate all over their face and they come and give you a hug with your new suit on? He loves you Aryeh."

And with that he would either go on to some business or just say goodbye and my day would be transformed. Looking back, my entire life has been transformed.

I can't believe the Rosh Yeshiva is not here. Yesterday was the first day of my life I lived as an observant Jew without the Rosh Yeshiva here. It was a strange experience. I never thought about it in those terms before. Now he is gone and now I have to really live all his lessons because he is no longer here for me. I hope my life will be a testimony, in some small way, to the incredible legacy that will become Rabbi Noach Weinberg; a man who loved every Jew, even the ones that gave him the most grief.

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What I Learned from a Bag of Ice
By Rabbi Avraham Goldhar

I'll never forget the summer of 1989. It was really hot, we were in the old Beis Midrash, and the air conditioning wasn't working. It was hard to learn, stay focused and not complain or whine. Then the ice bags came. Every day a bag of ice was sent to the coffee/tea room to be put in the freezer. Ice? In Israel? Back then that was an American luxury. We were thrilled, excited and most of all refreshed. No one knew who was sending it.

A week later we discovered that it was the Rosh Yeshiva. We were amazed and touched. It was such a kind, thoughtful, and personal gesture of care. I can still hear the enthusiastic conversations with some other students about how great the Rosh Yeshiva is, for sending us the ice. We were truly grateful.

Then it hit me later on.

Ice? For ice I can my open my heart and feel the Rosh Yeshiva's kindness? For ice, I can be effusive in my gratitude to the Rosh Yeshiva? For ice, I can acknowledge that my days been transformed, because of the coolness of a drink in a warm Israeli summer?

How about all the gratitude for the eight years that preceded that summer, when I had been transformed by the Rosh Yeshiva's vision, his reaching out, and inspiration to come spend a year in Israel to learn? Where was my thanks for the wisdom, the clarity and confidence he instilled within me that I too can make a difference? Where was my heartfelt gratitude for teaching me Torah, connecting me with the Almighty, and giving me a Jewish identity with roots all the way back to Sinai?

Whoah!!!!!!! How tricky can the heart be to ignore the avalanche of an impact the Rosh Yeshiva made on my life while managing to squeak by with a thank you for a cube of ice? Why was it so hard to acknowledge the magnificent depth and pervasive nature of the Rosh Yeshiva's contribution to my life? It's been 27 years since the Rosh Yeshiva dramatically changed the direction of my life and yet up until last week, I somehow moved forward not truly thankful for all that he has blessed me with.

All that has changed.

All that I see at every turn is what the Rosh Yeshiva gave me.

These past few days, since the passing of my beloved Rosh Yeshiva, I've been walking around in a daze. I'm emotionally overwhelmed in my realization that all that I see at every turn is what the Rosh Yeshiva gave me. My remarkable wife and beautiful children, our holy home and way of life. The books, the siddurim, the mezuzas, tefillin and Shabbos. My closest friends, and outstanding colleagues. The learning, the lessons, the Rabbis and Jewish communities I've thrived in and enjoyed. My yearning, my hope, my vision and contribution. His signature is on everything I care about and do. If he hadn't reached out to me, then everything I now cherish and hold dear would have disappeared because I wouldn't have been taught that they even existed.

One thing I've learned from the Rosh Yeshiva's passing is that while some people will get by thinking they made a difference by offering a cool drink, our real opportunity is to give mankind a new and better world to live in.

The world I live in is the one he gave me.

Thank you Rosh Yeshiva. I'll miss you forever but appreciate every blessing you gave me, every day.

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The Initiator
By Rabbi Chaim Feld, Cleveland

It always amazed me how many things the Rosh HaYeshiva ztl was involved in. I can't tell you the number of times I met someone who told me Rav Noach helped them start their own organization.

The last time it happened was two months ago. I am the unofficial HIllel Rabbi at Kent State University. (We actually have weekly Torah classes in the famous May 4th memorial room.) After class one Monday there was a presentation by someone about Sderot. I went to the lecture by Noam Bedein, a young Israeli in jeans with a ponytail showing a PowerPoint presentation about the rocket reality of Sderot. He made a direct impact on the Israeli government inspecting bomb shelters in the South and finding many of them non-operative. The room was full with Jews and non-Jews and people were visible moved by the presentation, obviously never seeing the human side of Israel's story.

After the presentation I went up to Noam to congratulate him. I told him that I am with Aish HaTorah. He told me the Rav Noach helped him get started and encouraged him to publicize the reality of living in Sderot. Here I was in Kent, Ohio; I just remember being amazed by the far-reaching influence of the Rosh HaYeshiva zt'l.

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My Broken Heart
By Rachelli Krongold, Jerusalem

I thought I would wake up from a bad dream. I awoke the morning after the lavayah only to realize it is true, our Rebbe is no longer with us in this world.

Shabbat came and left. And then the tears came like waterfalls. It is not a dream. I can't wake up.

Why does the reality hit us so much harder the next morning? Maybe it is one of the reasons our Rebbe spoke so much of Modei Ani! Clarity. What a raw and frightening clarity we wake up to today.

I am completely filled with mixed emotions. Rav Noach taught me that many emotions at one time is okay, but I'm still working on understanding that.

True joy and true sorrow live within my broken heart.

I'm starting to understand what he taught me when he said we can be living with the reality of the assimilation and apathy of the Jewish people today, and at the same time live with true joy. I look at my son and cry knowing that it is because of the Rosh Yeshiva's compassion and dedication that this little boy is alive and Jewish today, at the same time crying that our dear Rebbe is no longer with us. True joy and true sorrow live within my broken heart.

The world seems to go on. Birds are chirping, people are walking about and I wonder how? It feels as though time has stopped in my world and things are just going on around me. My mind keeps telling me, "People pass on; it's the way of life." But this is different. He wasn't finished. We need him. Where do we stand now? He was our leader. He had so much clarity.

All of a sudden we're walking through the desert without Moshe? Who will lead us?

Rav Noach will lead us, just as he always did. We know what he wanted from us. He taught us what the Almighty wants, and expects of us. Now we must redouble our efforts and live up to his expectations of us.

I came from a place where I only knew how to think about myself. Rav Noach taught me to think about others.

I came from a place where I thought there was no hope for a world filled with chaos, sadness and confusion. Rav Noach taught me that I can bring change to the world if I just live with the sanity myself.

I came from a place where the idea of death was a shattering and debilitating reality that inevitably faces us. Rav Noach taught me that life is meaningful, has a purpose, a cycle, and even the transition from this world to the next is a beautiful and awesome thing.

"We are humanity's last hope," he told us. We are humanity's last hope in bringing sanity to a world of such confusion. We just have to live with the sanity ourselves. Only then do we all stand a chance at living up to the expectations the Rosh Yeshiva has for us.

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Caring for Everyone
By Jonathan Bash, Jerusalem

I was once sitting in the Rosh Yeshiva's office in a private meeting. The phone rang, and with his secretary away, he took the call. I heard him say in an animated voice, "Hello, how are you? So nice to hear from you. So good to get your call. I am with someone right now but speak to my secretary and we can arrange a proper time to chat."

"This must be a close associate," I remarked to him. "I can wait outside if you want to talk to him now."

He told me that he actually didn't know him that well at all. "You were you so friendly... it seemed as if he was a really close friend."

He responded that Ethics of Our Fathers teaches us that we must great everyone with a happy face. Likewise on the phone, we should great people with a warm voice. I'm sure that person who spoke to Rav Noach felt like a million dollars.

I do part time work for my mother's pain relief business. We sell TENS units, which are electronic pain relief devices. I heard the Rosh Yeshiva was in pain, so when I visited him in hospital, I brought a long a TENS unit. He beamed a smile of gratitude and was so happy to get it. I was sure he was going to use it to ease his sickness-induced back pain.

A few days later, I spoke to his son Yehudah. I wanted to know if the device was helping him. He explained that his father didn't like the idea of placing electrodes on his back. I realized that he was never going to use it. He had smiled at me in gratitude for my sake, so that I could get the pleasure of helping him. He loved individuals and was sensitive to their needs and to their emotions.

Rav Noach was also completely dedicated to world Jewry as a whole. He constantly devised initiatives to save us from the dangers that face us, be it assimilation, Iran or terrorism. He was like Moses in that he fought for the entire Jewish Nation in the face of adversity. He was like Joseph in that he was not only interested in their spiritual welfare but also their physical existence; and his passing is like that of Jacob, in that there is no replacement. On Jacob's deathbed, he told his 12 sons (the tribes), that they had to unite to survive in Egypt or face oblivion; likewise those who carry his torch will work together. Rav Noach is the irreplaceable Yaakov Avinu (Jacob) and together we will act as a team to carry on his love for others.

Without Rav Noach, I would not be married with two children, living in Jerusalem, growing as a person and with a life of meaning. Rav Noach taught me responsibility -- that a human being can live an ordinary life, or he can reach out and spend time taking responsibility for himself and others. I don't want to let him down.

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Opening Hearts
By Azriel Friedman, Jerusalem

My brother was a giant media executive. He had close connections with the White House and major celebrities. He was also extremely bright and out of the box. I wanted him to meet a Jew who would blow away any stereotypes of what he denigrated Judaism to be.

The Rosh Yeshiva once told me: "If you can't at any moment jump up and dance, then you're not living like a Jew."

One day I asked him: "If I could get you a meeting with a religious figure, someone as influential as the Pope, would you meet with him?"

"For sure."

A week later the Rosh Yeshiva met with my brother. The meeting made an impact.
And my brother's heart was opened -- just a little, but enough to break his stereotypes and to relate to Judaism with some warmth.

When I asked the Rosh Yeshiva's how the meeting went, he put his head in his hand and sighed, "I should have gotten to know him a bit better, to spend more time just to talk."

"But Rosh Yeshiva," I answered "my brother thought it was a great meeting."

"I started teaching too quickly. I should've just gotten to know him a bit more."

He realized the heart of a Jew was at stake, and it hurt him that my brother's heart had not opened more.

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