Legend In His Own Day

Loyalty Was His Trademark

Rabbi Moshe Maimon, whose connection with Rav Lipschutz began when he attended the shul as a young boy with his father, penned the following reflections about a cherished relationship that developed between the rov and himself, as he matured.

I joined the Rabbi’s inner circle right after my bar mitzvah when the Rabbi drafted me for his mechiras chametz ritual, as a witness to the transaction. For the next fifteen years I cherished this event, eager to spend some time with our revered rov. I often accompanied him on some of his errands afterward.

The sale of chometz each year was made to an elderly buyer, who was also the same mechanic Rav Lipschutz had used for fifty years, until the man passed away. The new buyer was a landscaper with whom the rov also enjoyed a long-running business relationship.

Although the buyers knew the procedure by heart, the rov would unfailingly explain the kinyan step by step. Part of the script including slipping the buyers an extra twenty dollars while paying them for enacting the sale, (“so they don’t say Jews are cheap,” he would later quip to me.)

[Rav Lipschutz never relied on the sale for himself, and after the deed was drawn up, he’d give the buyer all his own chametz, including numerous bottles of whiskey that had accumulated over the year.]

The genuine reverence these proprietors had for him was a response to the respect he accorded them. But even more, it was a response to his loyalty. Loyalty was his trademark. You saw it in all his dealings. There might be good reasons to move on to a different mechanic, a different grocery store, a different dentist or repairman. But loyalty overcame those considerations.

For decades, he frequented the same florist in Spring Valley every erev Shabbos and erev Yom Tov, where the 3rd generation proprietors of the store had inherited from their elderly or deceased predecessors the instructions for the exact flower arrangement appreciated by the rebbetzin.

As he approached, they would smile in greeting and have the bouquet quickly made up for him before he said a word. He would always respond graciously and appreciatively.

His Heart Beat In Tune With His Forbears

As I matured, I began to visit the rov in my spare time, sitting with him in his study and absorbing a wealth of information from his “sichas chulin.”

On the one hand, he was a throwback to an earlier generation. His study overflowed with the sefarim of three previous generations of Lipschutz rabbanim—a virtual time machine into the past. He’d reference these sefarim while speaking of his forbearers’ dogged determination to spread Torah values in the spiritual wasteland that was then America. I could sense his heart beating in tune with theirs as he relived these struggles.

He told of sitting on the floor under the bimah as a child, listening to his father straining to arouse an apathetic and shrinking audience to the importance of shmiras shabbos.

Vos toigt men dem gantze Torah oib siz nit du kein minyan,” he would sigh, reliving the sadness and frustration of his father’s struggle to keep Orthodoxy alive in the rapidly assimilating community of Fall River, MA.

On the other hand, the rov was surprisingly current and possessed a shrewd grasp of people. He was uniquely capable of giving delicate advice and expert opinion on the wide variety of issues a contemporary rov must deal with.

Living Legend

He detested fanfare and hype, but to his loving constituents he was a veritable living legend. His pithy witticisms and anecdotes would be told and retold around their Shabbos tables for years. They became classics, recounted in the same manner and with the same exaggerated Eastern European accent the rov would humorously affect.

To me, the rov was the quintessential Litvak. He drew his inspiration more from Shabbos Chazon than from Shabbos Nachamu. Although he worked hard to hold his emotions within, he had a deeply sentimental side that surfaced when he spoke about subjects close to his heart.

He would talk passionately in his drashos of the ovos and the birth of klal Yisrael, and his rough voice would break with emotion when he contrasted the glory of our nation’s calling with the heartbreak of Am Yisroel in the long night of galus.

His gruff exterior hid a deep and sensitive nature that appreciated true goodness and simplicity. When his longtime gabbai, Yankel Rothstein, passed away, a deeply emotional Rav Lipschutz was maspid him, saying “people think Yankel was a pashute yid, but there is nothing pashut about a being a real pashute yid.”

He lived by the maxim, lo soguru mipnei ish, don’t be intimidated by anyone. Flattery was anathema to him. Rich and poor, big and small; he talked to everyone the same way—tersely, but with genuine care. He was especially fond of children, and he always had a twinkle in his eye and would talk to them gently while softly caressing their cheek.

Joy Of Being Mechadeish

He derived immense sipuk hanefesh in crafting his droshos. As he embarked on the project of publishing them, he invited me to work together with him in the editing stage. He would send me some of his droshos in the mail, and often rehashed the finer points of a particular speech as we worked on it together.

At times, as he pondered a beautiful vort or a moving mareh makom he had come across during his preparation, emotion would overcome him. Reviewing the process through which an inspiration of his had blossomed into a sparkling drasha, he would exult with the joy of being mechadeish, the pure joy of learning Torah.

Sometimes, after delivering a drasha he had prepared with me, he would wait for me after davening, exchange good Shabbos greetings and ask me if I thought he had delivered the speech well. For someone else, it would have pahst nisht to seek the opinion of a young person with no title or distinction. But he had no false pride and was unpretentious. He didn’t allow a person’s age or status to affect how he approached them. He cut through all that as meaningless outer trappings.

Perhaps the greatest moment I was privileged to share with Rav Lipschutz was when he called me to come to his house to celebrate the completion the third and final volume of his droshosIkvei Binyomin. As expected, the celebration was simple and without fanfare but I will never forget it.

Around a small table in his basement sat the rov with another talmid chochom, a chassidisher yid who had been the primary editor of his sefer. After sitting down and exchanging pleasantries, the rov proposed a toast and we all drank lechaim from a bottle of his favorite port wine. He then suggested we dance. He leaned over to a CD player and turned on Yehuda Green’s Hashivenu Hashem Eilecha.

With tears cascading down his cheeks, the rov clasped our hands and began a slow dance around the table. This stirring, almost iconic scene of the “Last of the Litvaks” crying and dancing with a chassidisher yid and longing for the days of hashiveinu Hashem eilecha, captures for me the core and essence of our beloved, one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable rov.

Yehi zichro boruch.

Shabbos Parshas Noach, immediately following the petirah of Rav Lipschutz, was a painful time for members of Khal Beis Yosef, the rov’s minyan of over forty years. A beloved and venerated spiritual leader, the rov had left a unique imprint on the lives of generations of mispallelim.

He had fallen ill a number of years ago, but continued leading his congregation for as long as he could. The members of the shul, in turn, remained extraordinarily attached to him, going to great lengths to ensure their captain with his devoted rebbetzin would remain at the ship’s helm, despite the advance of his illness.

We Were in His Teivah…He Was Our Noach

“The Gemara gives us the parting words that are appropriate for dear friends who must take leave of one another,” said Rabbi Avrohom Maimon in a brief message to fellow members of the rov’s minyan on the Shabbos after the petirah.

He noted that the Gemorah in Brochos (daf yud zayin) comments that the chachomim would part from one another with the blessing, Olamcha tireh bechayecha, “May you ‘see’ your world during your lifetime.”

These enigmatic words have been interpreted as conferring the blessing of being able to recognize the gifts that give one’s life meaning, and to enjoy them bechayecha, while you have the faculties and peace of mind to do so.

Similar to Noach’s teivah that defined his existence during the mabul, the rov’s spiritual world was defined by his shul, noted Rabbi Maimon. “We were his olam. We were in his teivah; he was our Noach. And he knew bechayov, in his lifetime, as we surely knew, how important he was to us.

“Although he had a gruff veneer, we saw right through it. He found his way into each of our hearts. We all had a powerful kesher with him. He was a dear, loyal friend.”

Other mispalleim echoed these sentiments, recalling situations when they relied on the rov’s genuine concern for them, seichal hayashar, and total trustworthiness.

“He was the person we turned to with all our questions, the big weighty ones and the minor, everyday ones,” shared one of the mispallelim with this writer. “Because he cared. And he took you seriously.”

“He was a poet…a mechadesh, an oheiv Torah on the level of previous generations…” commented one of shul’s core members. “His droshos overflowed with yiras Shomayim and the longing for geula.”

“He was cautious about paskening, but once he gave a psak he stood behind it with full authority,” offered another longtime member. “He took the burden from you. You knew you could rely on his daas Torah. He spoke from conviction, not because he wanted to please or pander to anyone. And because he didn’t vacillate, neither did you.

All remembered with fondness Rav Lipschutz’s unusual Motzai Shabbos Hilchos Shabbos shiur.

“We’d finish maariv and since the rov waited 72 minutes, we’d sit down with him and learn for a half hour,” recalled one of the mispallelim. “We had some of the most geshmacke shmuessen then. He was a tremendous medakdeik in hilchos Shabbos and had a passion for learning and teaching it. He knew how to engage his audience. He’d throw out scenarios about melochos that we could all relate to.”

His All-Time Hero

Another longtime shul member said he gained insight into the rov’s character through his droshos that extolled Avrohom Ovinu. “There was hardly an occasion when he didn’t mention the power and grandeur of Avrohom Ovinu. This was his hero. Perhaps because he identified with the challenge of being mei’eiver echod, on one side of the world, facing the rest of humanity on the other side.”

“His grandparents had been raised in the most refined and honored traditions of Lita, a world that no longer exists. That was the world he identified with. Where one is stoic, dignified and scrupulously honest, where respect for parents and teachers reigns. It was a world where loyalty mattered, where people measured their words, shunned flattery and avoided all types of excess.

“Those were the values that shaped him and he lived his life that way. And like a true son of Avrohom Ovinu, he was secure in his beliefs, indifferent as to their popularity or lack of it.”

An enduring image cherished by all his mispallelim was Rav Lipschutz’s ardent dance with the sefer Torah during Simchas Torah. At the height of the hakafos, people would slow down and form a circle around him as he clasped a Torah to his heart in his own unique dance. He would shed his usual reserve and composure in an emotional display of love for Torah that opened a window into his soul.

“I waited for it each year. It was the highlight for me,” recalled a shul member. Even after he became ill and no longer had the strength for this, I continued to see this scene in my mind. As if it was frozen in time. Because that represented him.

 

The family thanks the Ramapo Police Department for their assistance with the levaya. Special thank you to Police Chief Brad Weidel, Sergeant Chris Youngman, Officer Patrick Pegley, Officer Phillip White, Detective John Salmon, Detective Robert Fitzgerald and Yosef Margaretten of Chaveirim.