Rav Yaakov Weinberg was a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father, like any true talmid of Rav Weinberg, quoted his rebbe often and with regard to a wide range of issues. His intellectualism and broadminded approach to Orthodox Judaism are my father’s guiding light professionally and personally. His wisdom in Torah and secular knowledge was only bested by his thirst for more knowledge. Thus, the Torah and methodology of Rav Weinberg were always part of our home.
I also have early memories of meeting the Rosh Yeshiva and I was always struck by his warmth and infinite smile. Those early times that I met him, he was just a very sweet man to my young mind, not an anti-social intellectual. As I grew older and learned more about this great man, I realized that his greatness was not limited to his intellectual prowess and dedication to truth. Those were ever present. Rav Weinberg’s greatness was his Ahavas Yisrael.
The care and concern he had for his close students and the students of the yeshiva in general was legendary. When we lived in Buffalo, NY, my father was the Headmaster of Kadimah Jewish Day School. Seeking advice on a nerve wracking board vote, my father called Rav Weinberg. As usual, Rav Weinberg’s voice and wisdom were very helpful to my father. The next morning, my father received a phone call from Rav Weinberg. His rebbe called to say that he was at Buffalo Niagara International Airport and he asked if it would be possible for him to be picked up. My father incredulously asked what his rebbe was doing in Buffalo. Rav Weinberg replied, “I heard in your voice that you needed some chizuk so I came to see my talmid. I hope you can show me around the school.”
His love and devotion to perfect strangers and non-Orthodox Jews was exemplary. Rav Weinberg had regular phone meetings with non-Orthodox “friends” he had met in his travels. He gave lectures in cities and towns where the primary audience was non-Orthodox. We don’t think it’s strange because we are accustomed to these stories about Rav Weinberg by now, but has there ever been a charedi Rosh Yeshiva of Rav Weinberg’s caliber who spent so much time with non-Orthodox Jews? I don’t think so. But it was his obvious love for everyone that made his commitment to so many different people and groups so unsurprising.
Rav Weinberg’s daughter, Dr. Aviva Weisbord, shared an anecdote that demonstrates Rav Weinberg’s incredibly positive approach to how we relate to God.
“More than the genius, greater than the encyclopedic knowledge, beyond the prodigious output of original thought, there was the love: the all-encompassing, totally accepting, completely non-judgmental love for us and for every single Jew. It was a love that could give us a sense of what Hashem’s love is like for His children, so to speak. One erev Rosh Hashanah, my sister called my father to express her fears of the Day of Judgment. He asked her, “Do you know I love you?”
“Of course,” she answered.
“And if you did the absolutely worst thing possible, would you still know I love you?”
“One hundred percent.”
“Then listen carefully: Hashem loves you a billion times more. Don’t be afraid of Him: turn to Him.”
It’s not hard to see how one who really feels that God loves every one of God’s children will love all of those people. This was the never-ending wellspring of love from with Rav Weinberg drank. God’s love for us is infinite. We, in turn, love all of God’s children.
And this too is manifest in the work of many Rav Weinberg’s talmidim. I know that it is the mantra of my father’s school. As expressed in his school, God’s love for each us is so great because we are all God’s children and we are all capable of individual greatness in God’s image. We are all unique and we all have something to contribute that cannot be replicated by anyone else. God loves each of us and wants us to succeed. It’s the opposite of the angry, vengeful, scary God that pervades too much of our educational system.
On this 15th yartzeit, I humbly suggest we adopt this version of our relationship with God. Teach this to your children, students, and congregants. Teach Rav Weinberg’s way – intellectualism and sophistication with an overdose of love and tenderness.
It's All About Love | In Honor of Rav Yaakov Weinberg's 15th Yartzeit http://t.co/aUygmFLrfg
— Eliyahu Fink (@efink) July 15, 2014