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Remembering My Father, Rabbi Noach Weinberg

May 4, 2017 | by Estie Florans

A glimpse of what it was like growing up with my loving, brilliant, trail-blazing father.

Rav Noach Weinberg was world-renowned for his devotion to the Jewish people. He built an international organization and a yeshivah that touched millions – and keeps touching. His lessons, his voice, his passion still echo across the globe, the message growing exponentially with the passage of time.

He managed to introduce the fire of Torah – the Aish HaTorah – to the unaffiliated, reignite it in those whose flames barely flickered, and pioneer a movement that brought hundreds of thousands of Jews closer to their heritage. He did it through his love, through his caring, through his brilliance and vast knowledge.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Mrs. Rochel Friedman – third to the youngest of the 12 Weinberg children.

My father’s father, Reb Yitzchok Mattisyahu Weinberg, was a Slonimer Chassid, and a direct descendant of the first Slonimer Rebbe. Our zeide was forced to leave Eretz Yisrael after an Arab woman was pushed into the windmill he owned. She died and he was accused of murder by the British. He fled to America, hoping he’d be able to return to Eretz Yisrael as soon as the matter quieted down. But when he realized the situation was not improving and that it would be too dangerous for him to return, his wife, Hinda, and two of their children, Moshe and Chava, joined him in America.

My grandmother gave birth to three more children on the Lower East Side of New York: a boy, Yaakov – later to become the Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Yisrael of Baltimore, a girl, our Aunt Helene, and in 1930, my father, the youngest of the Weinberg children.

Rav Noach as a child, with his older brother Rav Yaakov Weinberg

Abba told us that his father gave him a dollar for each mishnah of Pirkei Avos he learned by heart. His father also instilled in him a great love for Hashem and for His People – the theme of Abba’s life – with the message that Hashem loves us unconditionally. Although his father passed away when Abba was only 13 years old, Abba knew he still had his Father in Heaven looking out for him.

Another one of the legacies that his father left him – even at that young age – was a pull toward reaching out to unaffiliated Jews.

Abba learned in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and later on in Ner Yisrael in Baltimore. In 1953, Abba set out by boat to Eretz Yisrael, hoping to speak with the Chazon Ish about the assimilation his father spoke of during his childhood and which he himself witnessed as an adult.

But when he arrived, he heard the tragic news that the Chazon Ish had died. So Abba headed to the Mirrer Yeshiva, where he diligently learned Torah for two years, and became very close to Harav Leizer Yudel Finkel, zt”l, and other great rabbis. When Abba returned to America, he planned to go back to Eretz Yisrael after his marriage, hoping to dedicate himself to full-time learning there.

Abba’s older brother Moshe and his wife knew a girl, Deena Goldman, who sometimes babysat for their children. She was strongminded and unwavering about wanting to marry someone who would devote himself to Torah, and having visited Eretz Yisrael as a 16-year-old, anticipated returning there to raise her own family. My aunt suggested the shidduch to my father.

After our parents’ wedding, Abba was determined to realize his dream of moving to Eretz Yisrael to learn Torah. But he didn’t have the means to support himself. So while continuing to learn, he worked part-time as an insurance salesman, hoping that by selling insurance policies he’d earn enough to relocate to Eretz Yisrael.

My parents were married four years and had my two oldest siblings by the time they were ready to move to Eretz Yisrael.

During the next decade, Abba was involved with several yeshivos and organizations. He was busy learning, but ready to “change the world” when needed.

By the time I was born, our household was bustling with a large family, ka”h, and with our “extended family”… my father’s students. Yeshiva Aish HaTorah was established in the early 1970s, around the time of my own birth – so the yeshivah was always a part of my childhood.

Throughout most of my mother’s childrearing years, her main occupation was raising us children and supporting my father in his learning and in spreading Torah. She did so in running our home, and making it a welcoming warm place for guests, often speaking to the women interested in Yiddishkeit and giving classes.

With the establishment of a thriving boys’ yeshivah geared toward ba’alei teshuvah, Ima saw a need for a girls’ school dedicated specifically to helping girls from unaffiliated backgrounds learn about Judiasm. Therefore, Ima started the girls’ school around the time I began first grade (a few years after our parents became grandparents), first by giving classes in our apartment in Kiryat Sanz and then eventually, in an apartment across the street from our home. So for us younger children, the yeshivah and the school were an integral part of our daily lives, with my father’s students and my mother’s students a constant presence.

For many years, our Shabbos and Yom Tov table was filled with guests from varied backgrounds. It was fun and interesting with all the different questions being asked. Our parents trained us from a very early age to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and ingrained in us the absolute, unequivocal belief, God loves you!

This was the foremost message that Abba’s father had imbedded in him and that he, in turn, imbedded in each of us. He used to ask us all the time, “Who loves you?”

The response had to be instant and instinctive: “Hashem!”

If Abba would question us, “Who else?” then the answer would be, “Abba and Ima.” But it was most important that our reply of “Hashem loves me” be immediate and automatic. These questions and responses between Abba and us must have taken place millions of times! He told us that his father often told him that saying “Hashem loves me!” is a huge mitzvah.

From our earliest years, we were taught the Sheish Mitzvos Temidiyos (the Six Constant Mitzvos). When we went out in the morning, Ima reminded us that a person has to know why he was created and for what he was created. What are you living for? Don’t waste your life!

Throughout my childhood, teens and adult years, Abba was extremely busy. He was either traveling to North America for the yeshivah or busy in yeshivah for most of the day. Our family (my parents and we younger children) would sometimes go to Aish HaTorah for Shabbosos and Yamim Tovim, as well as to Ma’aleh Amos, a settlement established for the Aish HaTorah families.

Rabbi Weinberg dancing with his new son-in-law, R. Yitzchak Chaim Friedman

When Abba traveled, we missed him, but we looked forward toward his return. Like a “child at heart,” when returning from overseas, Abba delighted in bringing us special candies and treats. Abba especially preferred choosing gifts in which the children could be active participants as opposed to toys that passively entertained. “Don’t be zombies,” he’d say to children engaged in such robotic inactivity.

Even as a child, I knew unequivocally that my father’s talmidim were one hundred percent considered his children and their children were just like his grandchildren. But I also knew, with that same one hundred percent certainty, that we were his top priority. He would drop whatever he was doing – if necessary – to be there for us.

If I got up early in the morning, I’d sometimes get a ride to school with Abba, a special time with just me and my father. If any of us ever needed special attention, my father would find the time to take us out for a walk and give us that individual time and care. Despite his constant busyness, we always felt his love and knew without a doubt that his children were most important to him.

Abba was extremely warm and loving. He loved Hashem and he loved Hashem’s children – and this love emanated from his entire being.

Along with Abba’s tremendous love came expectations. He had great aspirations for himself and for others, and was constantly setting goals. He was demanding of himself and of the people around him. “Bishvili nivra ha’olam – the world was created for me” means you must get out there and change the world!”

When Abba met someone, he saw the person’s potential, and encouraged – or rather, demanded – that the person take steps upward, to keep doing, to keep climbing, to keep elevating himself to higher and greater levels. Because he believed in the person, and the person felt it.

It didn’t matter if you were his student or his child, if he was lecturing in a classroom or showing his own child the right path to take. It was the same message: “God loves you and wants you to do the right thing. And you’d never want to do something that Hashem doesn’t want! You can do anything; there’s nothing holding you back!”

Abba often said, “With the Almighty, you can do everything; without Him, you can’t do anything.” It wasn’t just a line. It was real to him… it was his life!

There were so many times, so many stories when he didn’t have the means to pay his workers. He knew, for real, that Hashem would come through for him.

Abba always told us, “Just talk to Hashem.”

“I’m your father,” Abba said. “If I was a millionaire, don’t you think I’d want to give you a million dollars and more? Hashem is your Father, and He loves you! If Hashem isn’t answering your requests right away, ask again! Hashem wants to give to you!”

One time, I was feeling saddened about something I felt I needed, but wasn’t forthcoming. I told Abba, “Maybe Hashem doesn’t want this for me and therefore I should stop asking.”

Abba became upset. “How can you speak like that, Rochel’a?” Abba said. “Hashem wants the best for you. Hashem loves you and wants to give you everything! Just because He didn’t answer you yet, it doesn’t mean that you should stop asking.”

Abba stressed that the Almighty has no limits. Nothing is too great or too minor to ask from God.

We witnessed Abba turning to Hashem all the time. “Hashem, tell me, what am I supposed to do right now?” he would ask Hashem.

Rabbi Weinberg, a year before his death, with his sons and sons-in-law

Abba used to say that when a person thinks something is too small to ask of God, thinking, I can’t ask for this since it’s small and doesn’t count… it is actually the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. “What do you mean?” Abba questioned, “If you move your little pinky, that’s not Hashem? That’s your own power? Of course not! You’re just kidding yourself if you think you don’t need Hashem for the little things… You need the Almighty for everything!”

My father loved every member of Klal Yisrael. That love and that passion created a fiery energy within him that burst forth, touching and warming all. But that love came from his complete, infinite love of Hashem.

A more detailed version of this article originally appeared in Binah Magazine.

Join FREE introductory webinar on Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom, with chief editor, Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith, Wednesday, May 10, and discover how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. CLICK HERE TO JOIN

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