Missing Rav Noah

January 30, 2012

20 min read


Some reflections and lessons marking the third yahrzeit of the founder and dean of Aish HaTorah.

Yehuda Weinberg
COO of Aish HaTorah Jerusalem

Yehuda WeinbergWhen I think about how to describe my father no words are enough to express how great he was.

It’s been three painful years without my father. Every single day without my father is painful. He is missed in everything I do and every minute of my life.

But what is it that I’m really missing?

Am I missing the special hug he used to give us with warmth and love? Is it his sweet smile or that feeling of security that I would always get?

I feel I’m missing something deeper, something that I always feel is absent.

My father said a few times, “When I leave this world, all of you will work together to fulfill our mission.” And he would add, “While I’m here you lean on me because there’s someone doing the job.”

I would always wonder: if we can’t finish the job while this great leader is here, then all the more so without him, how would we have the strength to get the job done?

A life changing moment for me was when my father was sick and most of the doctors had given up on him. We traveled to the U.S. to meet with a very big doctor - our last hope. At the end of that meeting that doctor also said “Sorry, unfortunately there is nothing we can do.”

At that moment, stuck for any logical words, I turned to my father and said, "Abba what’s going to be?"

My father smiled widely and said, “That’s it. Now we can depend only on God. Until now, we naturally depended on the doctors as well.”

These words encapsulated the entire meaning of my father’s mission in life. He looked to see how he could connect deeper with his beloved Father in Heaven every day.

As I remember this story, I am starting to understand what I am missing. I am missing the wisdom for life, the words of Torah that my father would teach us every day. I am missing his leadership and guidance. I am missing someone who would give me more understanding about the meaning of life every single day.

Spiritually, the contribution that a great person makes is never forgotten. It never disappears. Instead it gives you the strength to grow and to continue to do more and more. Perhaps that’s why my father said, “After I’m gone you’ll all do more,” because then our focus will be on the wisdom he taught us, and with that we will get together and hopefully fulfill our mission.

A yahrzeit is a day to stop and ask ourselves: are we continuing in his ways? My father believed in everyone’s potential and ability to change the world. He would often say, If God would help you, you can do anything. He’s just waiting for you to seriously want it and not be carried away by distractions.

By using my father’s yahrzeit as an opportunity to recommit to his wisdom and mission, we can achieve a deeper connection with my father.

Abba, I miss you so much, for so many reasons, but mostly I miss your wisdom, your leadership, and I miss the words of Torah that flowed from your heart into my heart, and into the hearts of so many.

Your loving son, Yehuda

Boruch Rabinowitz
Executive Director, Aish International

Boruch RabinowitzWhat do miss most about Rav Noah?

I miss the warmth of his love that he had toward me and others.

I miss his guidance and ongoing advice. Rav Noah showed me the way.

I miss Rav Noah’s vision. He lifted me out of the mundane, self-absorption, the pettiness of the world. He showed us the big picture, the goals that really matter, and gave me the confidence I could get there. He made Torah real, and helped me be real.

I miss traveling with the Rosh Yeshiva and seeing how he lifted and encouraged people. People from all walks of life all over the world were changed by Rav Noah.

I miss Rav Noah's infectious smile, his laugh, and laughing with him. The weight of the world felt so much lighter when he laughed.

I miss his sense of humor. Rav Noah was hilarious and so much fun to be with.

I miss Rav Noah’s drive to be real and get others to be real. I miss Rav Noah's profound wisdom. It was so clear; deep yet so simple.

I miss Rav Noah's anger at injustice and apathy. I miss the Rosh Yeshiva getting upset when people said it can't be done. I miss Rav Noah saying how outrageous things were and how we had to do something about it.

I miss Rav Noah showing people a problem and then asking, “What are you going to do about it?”

I miss Rav Noah saying, “If you give me ten million dollars I'll change the world.”

I miss Rav Noah hitting or pinching my arm. I miss Rav Noah saying thank you with a big smile when I brought him an ice coffee.

I miss Rav Noah.

Stuart Hytman
President, Aish HaTorah Toronto

Stuart HytmanThe Sages teach us that your students are really your children. I heard this statement many times and understood the idea, but I don’t think I personally ever felt it or truly understood it until our beloved Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Noah Weinberg, ztz”l, was taken from us three years ago on 11 Shevat 5769.

There are many things I miss about the Rosh Yeshiva. His clarity about what God wanted from us and what we needed to do. Rav Noah was screaming out the clarion call to the Jewish world, trying to wake them up to reach out to our brethren, when nobody was listening. Now we’re listening and we’re taking on his message.

Rav Noah was so intense and driven to accomplish his mission, and at the same time so warm and fatherly, often giving you one of his trademark bear hugs when you saw him. What I miss the most about the Rosh Yeshiva is his genius-like ability to build you up and energize you by connecting you to your potential. He had an amazing ability to get you to tap into your inner strength and believe in yourself. You’d walk out of his office ready to work on yourself, take on the world and take on responsibility.

It was the Rosh Yeshiva's dream to create a movement by empowering Jews to take personal responsibility for the Jewish People and develop Jewish leadership by connecting them to the profound meaning and beauty of Torah and Judaism. One of his dreams was to get the religious community to be a key component to creating this movement. He called it “Awake the Sleeping Giant," which eventually became Project Inspire, one of Aish HaTorah's most successful, cutting edge initiatives.

I remember a question was asked to Rav Noah about what should be the priority for the frum community; to get the religious community to do outreach or to deal with their own pressing issues facing their community before they can be successful at doing outreach? He said without a doubt the priority must be to deal with their own problems and issues first, but the best way to do that is by getting them to do outreach. Looking outwards, being proactive and connecting others to the meaning of Judaism will increase their own personal connection and will give them the strength and siyata deshmaya, Heavenly assistance to deal with their own challenges. This is one small example of the greatness of Rav Noah's wisdom.

In his incredibly wise, yet practical way, Rav Noah was able to inspire people to see in themselves what he saw in them. He did this for thousands of his students and he changed the world. That’s what a Rebbe does. That’s what a father does. I miss that.

Harvey Hecker
Past International President of Aish HaTorah

Harvey HeckerReb Noah changed my life. He challenged me to rise above the narrow but important activities of self, family, business and community, and pushed me to become an active participant in the outreach movement, long before it became an accepted thing to do. He focused me on the challenge to preserve the continuity of the entire Jewish people. He taught me that one human being can make an impact that can change the world. He was one of those great men who did just that. His vision was beyond the horizon and he encouraged me to climb up to see what he could see. He believed in encouraging people to do more than they thought possible.

He engaged me in issues beyond the mundane, everyday problems of daily living. He prodded me to think not only about my generation but future generations as well. He taught me to encourage others to go beyond their self-conception of self. He was always stretching the envelope while I was fearing falling off the cliff.

A number of years ago, Reb Noah recognized that in addition to intermarriage, assimilation and apathy, there was an equal danger to world Jewry. That threat came from radical Islam, whose leadership wanted to eliminate Jews and Judaism, not just in Israel, but everywhere.

Reb Noah took me and a lot of others by surprise when, in effect, he began a war on a second front. When I discussed this with him, he pointed out that our primary mission was to educate Jews about Torah and timeless Jewish values and wisdom. But he always viewed Aish HaTorah as a Vaad Hatzalah, an organization created to address the existential needs of the Jewish people. We have an overarching obligation to save lives, and in addition to rampant assimilation, Jewish lives are being threatened by radical Islam. We have an equal responsibility to address this grave threat.

Reb Noah had this uncanny ability to identify early world issues and to respond to those that he felt most threatening to world Jewry. When I sit back and remember how he got to the core of an issue, it was like peeling an onion. His ability to get to the nucleus of the issue and articulate it clearly to others is what I miss most. He had an uncanny ability to marshal resources and direct them to where they are most needed.

I sorely miss his leadership, his mentoring ability and his forcefulness.

Kalman Packouz, author of shabbat shalom
Weekly and one  of the first 5 students at Aish

Kalman PackouzWhat do I miss about Reb Noah? The first thing that comes to mind is his smile. He lit up the room. Love radiated. You felt warm and that all was well in the world.

Then he'd exclaim with joy, "My tachshit (jewel)! Do you know the Almighty loves you?" Immediately I'd be transcended from the warmth of his love to connect with the warmth of the Almighty's love.

I miss his hug. He really cared. He was there for you. I always knew that anytime, any place, any problem... I could turn to Reb Noah. He was there for me 100%. In the early days of Aish, he asked me to come with him to a meeting with a lawyer regarding a lot of money that was owed Aish. I had not been feeling well that day and while we were waiting for the lawyer, I realized that I had not been able to put on tefillin... and it was almost sunset. He immediately grabbed my hand, ran out of the waiting room to a nearby shul so that I could put on tefillin. The money, the meeting... they were all secondary to helping another Jew.

I miss Reb Noah's clarity. There was always a final authority to ask a question and get an answer that you could rely on. You intellectually and intuitively knew that it was the right thing to do, that Reb Noah's answer was the will of the Almighty.

I miss his sanity. He could always break through petty squabbles to get people to focus on the bigger picture, the problems facing the Jewish people.

I miss his love of all Jews. Almost everyone who ever met Reb Noah felt that love. Every student felt that he was Reb Noah's favorite student. (Although, I knew the truth -- it was really me.)

I miss his encouragement. Reb Noah was a one-man cheering squad. He would praise and encourage and take pleasure in my victories and successes and never say anything negative about what I could have or should have done instead or in addition.

I miss his corrective advice. If asked, with laser-like sharpness he could focus me on what was holding me back. He always had a plan to share to conquer the obstacles within or without.

I miss his vision. He once gave the Aish leaders an exercise: "A man will give us $50 million to fund the best plan. For the next hour, come up with plans to change the Jewish future." After an hour we had 36 plans written on the board. Reb Noah came back into the room, looked at the board and said, "I've already considered these" and then wrote another 20 plans on the board.

I miss his phone calls at all hours of the day, "Kalman, tell me a joke. I just had a rough meeting." For years I thought I was an integral part of lifting his spirits. More recently I've been thinking it was the other way around. He knew that I enjoyed hearing his laugh.

Above all, I miss knowing there was someone taking responsibility for the Jewish people, that we had an inspiring leader with vision who could bring together so many from diverse backgrounds to light the fire (Aish) of Torah in every Jewish heart.

Ephraim Shore
Executive director, Aish HaTorah Jerusalem

Ephraim ShoreMissing Rav Noah is like missing your left hand. You can sort of get by without it for a while, but every couple days or sometimes ever few hours, you really notice it’s not there. You miss having it around.

Most of all, I miss having a rebbe. A rebbe, to me, is someone I can go to who has profound wisdom and insight into life who can offer me advice and guidance on life’s important issues. And not just on the big heavy life-changing issues, even on the more mundane issues that frequently arise: How should I divide up my time at work? What should my Torah study priorities be? How can I effectively resolve some friction I’m experiencing with a friend? How do I guide my son through a coming-of-age crisis? And a million other questions like that.

There are three critical elements that make a true rebbe. He has to be steeped in Torah. His advice must be drawn from the principles and philosophy of the Torah so the advice comes from a Godly, objective source. Secondly, the rebbe has to know you. Life decisions are rarely if ever written in black and white in some classic text. Each life issue consists of a complex configuration of Torah morals and principles meshed with personal goals, strengths and weaknesses. And lastly, he has to care. Because without love, he won’t look to see the whole picture of me.

Rav Noah possessed all three qualities in abundance. His Torah was deep and broad. He knew me and his other students, by the thousands, and kept tabs on both our personal and professional lives (he kept a scrapbook of all his students and our families). And he loved us as a father loves his children: his desire for our growth and perfection matched or surpassed our own thirst for greatness.

Can I get by? Sure, most of the time. But I sure do miss you, Rebbe.

Shraga Simmons
Senior editor of Aish.com

Shraga SimmonsRav Noah was a visionary.

At age 16, when his father died, Rav Noah felt it wasn’t right to be supported by his mother, a widow. So during vacation times, he became a salesman – traveling by train from New York to Texas and points in-between. As he met different Jews across America, he saw that their Jewish pride was not always reinforced with Torah knowledge. From here Rav Noah envisaged that the coming generations – without a clear transmission of the importance of being Jewish – would likely assimilate. And Rav Noah devoted his life to reversing that trend.

This is startling. All the way back in the 1940s, when the intermarriage rate in America stood at 5 percent, Rav Noah saw how the future would unfold, to where today the intermarriage rate is well over 50 percent.

That is what I miss most about Rav Noah. His prescience.

When you asked him for advice, you knew the response was coming from a trustworthy, world-class expert in wisdom, objectivity, sociology and history.

In terms of clarity, Rav Noah had a huge advantage over other powerful people. Power is typically accompanied by the distortions of money, ego, lust. But Rabbi Weinberg had a rock-solid anchoring in Torah values that made him incredibly humble and clear of personal bias. That, coupled with his deep wellspring of wisdom, connected him to reality in its purest, unadulterated form.

I miss terribly having such an advisor. Because Rav Noah was my spiritual father – he taught me the tools to access my soul – in some ways he understood me better than I understood myself. Whether the topic was spiritual matters, career or relationships, his message was always tailor-made, and sprinkled with his incredible warmth and love. (Amazingly, he did this simultaneously with thousands of people.)

In the mid-1990s, he plucked me out of my position at Aish Los Angeles, because he foresaw the increasingly central role that the Internet would play in the flow of information and ideas. He always knew which button to press to get the best out of me.

Another unique aspect of his leadership is how he was so personally empowering. He would never dispense advice to a mindless recipient (what he called “zombies”). He demanded that we first present our own suggested solution. He would then either expand on that, or take a different direction entirely. But by making us work it out beforehand, he was training us to be independent thinkers, and to accept personal responsibility as a core value.

He believed deeply in the power of the Jewish people to change the world, to steer it on a course of sanity and true liberation. Everything to him was one seamless page in the incredible unfolding story of Jewish history. When a group of Aish rabbis traveled with him to Auschwitz, he inspired us by linking that seminal event directly to the challenges facing the Jewish people today.

Rav Noah was a revolutionary in the sense that he was never satisfied with the status quo. He awoke us from our slumber, sometimes with a bang on the desk and sometimes with a soft word – yet always with a boundless unconditional love.

Sitting here now, I can think of a dozen crucial questions that I wish I could ask him. The loss is irreplaceable.

Elliot Mathias
Director of Hasbara Fellowships

Elliot MathiasThere are many things I miss about the Rosh HaYeshiva including:

  • Knowing there was a person with tremendous wisdom I could go to for personal or professional advice to guide me in the right direction
  • Knowing there was a person taking responsibility to fight and advocate for the Jewish People in all areas of need
  • Knowing there was someone I could emulate in his commitment to not being discouraged by obstacles or difficulties.

I miss being around someone who had complete clarity that we could truly make a difference and connect every Jew back to the Jewish People by showing them the meaning, depth and relevance of what it means to be Jewish.

But what I miss most about the Rosh HaYeshiva was that he constantly made me feel uncomfortable! Although he would always greet with me with a smile and always ask me how my family was, he also always pushed me to do more. Once when I was in Yeshiva, Rav Noah joined the students for a Yom Tov meal. Someone had the idea to stand up and tell the Rosh HaYeshiva why we appreciated him. I was asked to speak first. I told Rav Noah that I was grateful that he always pushed me to do more. When I first entered Aish HaTorah, I was comfortable in my life and didn’t do much thinking about God, wisdom, meaning, etc. After meeting Rav Noah, he made me feel uncomfortable about not thinking about these things and I changed my outlook on what is important in life. After being in Aish HaTorah for some time, I became comfortable as a yeshiva student, learning Torah on a full-time basis. Then the Rosh HaYeshiva asked me if I was committed to learning “the entire Torah.” Whoa! So I was uncomfortable again and had to expand my horizons of what I could accomplish. Then after some more time of being comfortable studying in yeshiva, Rav Noah asked me what I was doing to teach other Jews. Whoa again! So I started volunteering as a program leader on Aish’s Jerusalem Fellowships programs and on the Discovery program.

I was comfortable doing these things until the Rosh HaYeshiva stood up during the Intifada and said that Israel was at war and we had to do something about it. Me? A yeshiva student? So he pushed me to start the Hasbara Fellowships which I did as a student at Aish.

This was where my story ended while standing there at that meal with the Rosh HaYeshiva. On cue, the Rav Noah looked at me and said “So why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be leaving the yeshiva by now to go do more?” Whoa!

Zelig Pliskin
Author and international lecturer

Rabbi Zelig PliskinIt's three years now that the Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Noah Weinberg, is with us in spirit and not in body. I miss his presence. His ideas stay on. We can listen to the many recordings of his talks, especially the 48 Ways. But the wonderful, elevating experience of being in his presence is not available now. Yet those memories of what it was like are deeply embedded in our minds.

I see his picture and the words of his spiritual will daily. They remind me of the question, "What are you doing for the Jewish people? What more could you be doing?"

I have recently began "The Aish Happiness Project." I can imagine telling the Rosh HaYeshiva about it. I can hear him encouraging me with a warm smile.

Everything that Aish Hatorah continues to accomplish is because of Rav Noah’s powerful vision and dream. May his memory keep inspiring the Jewish people until our mission is completed.

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