After fighting New York Sunday traffic for almost three hours, we arrived at the place where it had all begun. The old mansion, our youthful dreams hiding in its holy walls, loomed high on top of the hill. It was a walk we had made hundreds of times, but today, it was different. We walked silently up the path, the light in the building ahead dimmer forever.
Reb Yudel Goldberg, the man, who for forty years had lit the yeshiva on fire, was gone.
One fellow making his way up, remembered hikes of a different time. A young boy just starting out in yeshiva, he was thousands of miles away from home and struggling to find his place. His mind was filled with heroes of a different sort than was valued here, and he wasn’t certain he’d ever be ready to move on. And then rebbi began to take him on walks, a comforting hand steady on the talmid’s shoulder as they went.
“I can name you every Bears and Cubs star of the 60’s and today I am privileged to teach Torah in the Riverdale Yeshiva. It doesn’t matter. You can succeed, you can grow, you can rise above it all. I promise, you can and you will become a real Ben Torah. I believe in you.”
Today a maggid shiur in a beautiful makom Torah, he walked up that hill one more time, to say goodbye.
Another yungerman, deep in thought. Back then he was average and felt alone among his peers. Was it really worth all this effort, to just be one of the crowd?
Reb Yudel reached him too. He sat with him and listed all the chavrusas he had when learned by Rav Berel Soloveitchik in Brisk. They had all become renowned roshei yeshiva.
“You think I can’t be down. All my friends are famous leaders, and I teach 16-year-old boys, one shiur at a time. But I am happy. Do you know why? Because this is my tafkid and there is nothing more thrilling in life than finding your tafkid and getting to do it every day. You too will find a role in which you excel, and you will accomplish great things. “
He too a successful marbitz Torah and he too walked up the hill.
Talmidim. Colleagues, Friends. He dragged us all up the Har Hashem, with truth, with purity, and most of all, with unconditional love.
And together, we all walked up the hill.
We had come to say goodbye to the man on whom Rav Chaim Stein, Telzer Rosh Yeshiva declared, upon witnessing his ability to lift the spirits of his suffering son and Reb. Yudel’s closest friend, Hatzaddik Reb Sholom Refoel Yehuda, “Er Muz Zain a Malach,” he must be an angel, for he has the ability to bring the dead back to life.” We had come to be touched one more time by the nobility of a talmid chochom who worried only about how he can gladden the heart of another Jew.
And we came to remember the moments of hecherkeit we had in his presence. By Reb Yudel, we saw the holiness of a Yiddishkeit untouched, and human manifestation of the possibility you can live for everyone except for yourself.
Rav Yudel Goldberg was not yet thirty years old, when he was called from Eretz Yisroel to come home. A life of chinuch in its purest form was about to unfold. On his way out, the heilige Steipler charged him with the mission that would change our lives.
“Mach Es Zees far de Bochurim”
You taught us how to learn, how to live, how to believe. You showed us what it means to be a soldier of Hashem, how to become one with His Torah and His people.
And in every shiur, in every bit of mussar, in every transmission of Emunah and Hashkofas Ben Torah, you made it so Zees.
The makshan and the tartzan, p’shat in Rashi and the mehalech in Tosafos, Ketzos and Nesivos, again and again. You described the greatness of your own rabbeim with childlike wonder, and you laughed mercilessly at the emptiness of a world gone mad.
We were tired one day- maybe there had been a chasunah the night before- and barely paying attention. Rebbi got angry and gave us what we deserved. At the end of the zeman, during chazara, we reached the line of gemara that we had been learning on that ill-fated day weeks before, he stopped and laughed his booming laugh.
“Kahn Harebbi Koas.” Here the rebbi got angry.
“That too is part of the shiur and that too we need to review. We are zoche to learn Torah and being tired is no excuse.”
I went to visit rebbi with a friend after he recovered from his bout with corona. His voice was low, but it carried the same familiar power. He remembered how he was lying in bed, drifting in and out. The nurse had turned on the news and the now former governor of New York was giving his infamous G-d did not do that speech.
“I was hooked to the ventilator, I couldn’t talk,” rebbi told us. “But in my head, I was yelling at him, shaking my fist. Kefira and shtusim. Altz is Ribono Shel Olam.”
Hakadosh Boruch Hu was real, Torah Hakedosha was alive, and watching his joy in being a yid was sweetness itself.
He never forgot the Steipler’s command.
Make it Zees.
Have you had the good fortune of a rebbi who found the key to your heart? Have you heard the voice that played a different sort of tune, been showered with a smile that created genuine hope? Have you felt the loving embrace that armed you with the courage to chase budding dreams?
I was so blessed. And for forty years, so was every 11th grade bochur that called Telz-Riverdale home.
And so, we walked up the hill, to take leave of the rebbi who fired our dreams, who lit up our neshamos with an eternal light.
Mayim Rabbim Lo Yuchlu Lechabos es HaAhava.
You fulfilled your tafkid and you were faithful until your final day.
To your Creator, to your talmidim, and to your mission.
You made it Zees.