Monday, August 3, 2009

The Levaya of a Gadol

I'm not one to discuss what's going on in the world. I prefer to live in my little bubble, only surfacing when some friend or family member mentions something new in current events. But every so often, current events collide with my bubble. Today was one such day.

Rav Zelig Epstein, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Shaar Hatorah, a yeshiva in my neighborhood, was niftar today. The levaya (funeral) was held outside in front of the Yeshiva. B"H there was a lot of shade and a local grocery store supplied free drinks. Most of the hespedim (eulogies) were in Yiddish, so I didn't understand most of what was going on, but the intent was clear: Reb Zelig was a tzaddik in our times. He did what he could for the tzibbur (community), but did not forsake his family in the process. He was a man of great wisdom and empathy; he was able to get to the heart of something and share his insight. He was a gadol who corresponded with many great Rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel (Israel). On a list of who to ask eitzos (ideas) from, he was only behind Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky and Rav Shach. I'm sure many personal stories were told, but I didn't understand them.

That he was a great man did not surprise me. But the sheer number of people who came did. I went to the levaya of Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, one of the American Roshei Yesiva of Mir in America, while I was in seminary. Again, the hespedim were all in Yiddish or Hebrew, so I didn't understand any of it. The cemetery he was buried in was across the street from my dorm, so we got to see the entire procession. "A lot of people" doesn't even begin to cover it. Rechov Shmuel Hanavi (a six lane street) was covered in a sea of black hats. Hands covered the van that the meis was in, everyone wanting one last touch, one last caress, for the rebbe that they were losing. It was a fitting tribute for the man he was.

Since Shaar Hatorah is a much smaller Yeshiva than Mir, I thought Rav Zelig's levaya wouldn't be of the same magnitude as Rav Berenbaum. I was wrong - it came very close. There was the same sea of black covering two streets. The same loving, caressing touch of hundreds of talmidim (students) trying to hold onto their Rebbe.

During the hespedim and after, while following the aron (coffin), non-Jews stopped in the streets. They asked us what was going on, and when they heard it was a funeral, they paid their respects. Those who lived in the neighborhood knew of the yeshiva and had heard of its leader. The Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's Name) that came about through this levaya was enormous. How often does one see literally hundreds of people come together to honor one man?

May he be a meilitz yosher for all of us.
Umacha Hashem dimaah ma'al kol panim
(May G-d wipe away the tears from every face)


Staying Afloat said...

Thank you for letting us be a part of this through your words.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

(Concurringwith previous comment) Yeah, I didn't even hear about it..

MusingMaidel said...

He was sick for a long time, but the levaya was very soon after his death. I didn't hear about it until the morning. It was only because I'm between semesters and don't have a job yet that I was able to go. Even my parents didn't make it. It's amazing that there were still so many people there.

itsagift said...

Wow! And you wrote it in the most touching way...

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