A Life’s Mission of Being Mechanech Talmidim
By Rabbi Moshe Ferber
The talmidim of the Yeshiva of the Telshe Alumni in Riverdale, New York, are fortunate to be educated by a staff of exemplary rabbeim, each unique in his own way. The yeshiva recently suffered the loss of one of these beloved ramim, Rav Yehudah Goldberg zt”l, who taught the machloka gimmel/eleventh grade shiur at the yeshiva for forty years. Here is a sampling of some of the stories that were shared at the yeshiva on the occasion of the conclusion of the shivah.
Dedication to the Bochurim
Rav Goldberg felt that he had one goal in his life, and that was the success of his talmidim. He was dedicated to the shteiging of each and every talmid and he would frequently consult with the other members of the hanhallah to this end. He would ask them, “What more can we do for the bochurim? What can we do for this particular bochur’s shteiging?”
There was nothing that was considered too difficult or too inconvenient when it came to the benefit of the talmidim. His mantra was: “If this is for the good of the yeshiva, then hineni! I am ready!” Although he was technically off on Shabbos, he would nonetheless call the rosh yeshiva, Rav Avrohom Ausband, from time to time and offer to come with his family to the yeshiva for Shabbos if it could be of any benefit. While recovering from his difficult and draining bout with Covid, he still insisted on being a part of his talmidim’s life. Around the same time, the yeshiva was compelled to relocate the high school to Oppenheimer’s Hotel in Fleischman’s, New York for three weeks. Rav Goldberg happily offered to join the yeshiva if it would be a chizuk to the talmidim. Although it would be emotionally and physically draining for him, he was not thinking about himself. Needless to say, his offer was accepted.
Rav Goldberg began his treatments for his final illness during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. When the rosh yeshiva visited him during bein hazemanim, they needed to discuss plans for the shiur for the upcoming winter zeman. Clearly, it was a sensitive moment, as everyone understood how much chiyus the shiur gave Rav Goldberg. When the topic came up, he declared emphatically: “The main factor here is what is good for the talmidim.”
The Fire of Torah
It was the winter of 5750. Saddam Hussein was threatening to send Scud missiles into Eretz Yisroel should he be provoked by an American invasion. The rhetoric throughout the Persian Gulf War and the subsequent barrage of Scud missiles that were sent by Hussein made the bochurim anxious about the safety of their loved ones and of Klal Yisroel in general in Eretz Yisroel. On one particular stressful day, Rav Goldberg was trying to release some of the anxiety and encourage his talmidim to focus on the Gemara. He bellowed in his characteristic style: “Every shtickel Tosafos is a Patriot missile in the face of a Scud!”
Rav Goldberg used every opportunity to ignite the fire of Torah within his talmidim. A talmid asked a kushya on a shtickel Torah in Rav Shach’s Avi Ezri from something that he learned in the sefer Nesivos Hamishpat. The talmid himself came up with a novel answer to his problem by using another shtickel Torah that he found in the Steipler’s sefer, Kehillos Yaakov. Rav Goldberg was aware that this same talmid would be traveling to Eretz Yisroel for the summer that year and looked at this as a golden opportunity to infuse the bochur with some extra chizuk. He encouraged the bochur to go visit Rav Shach and share his shtickel Torah. The talmid was initially intimidated at the thought of sharing his vort with the gadol hador, but when Rav Goldberg didn’t let up, he relented and agreed to the plan. For the rest of the zeman, Rav Goldberg would constantly remind the bochur that that summer he would be going to Rav Shach and would be presenting his novel answer. When the summer came around and the bochur arrived in Eretz Yisroel, he made his way to Bnei Brak to see Rav Shach. After his initial unsuccessful attempt, he was finally let into Rav Shach, who patiently listened to the young bochur’s explanation and nodded his appreciation. (Rav Shach then left the bochur with a piece of sound advice: “Tayereh bochur, zolst lernen asach Gemara un asach chazeren! Precious bochur, you should learn a lot of Gemara and you should review your learning a lot!) One can only imagine the chizuk that this encounter left with the bochur.
A Rebbi’s love
One of the talmidim was struggling with his davening. Rav Goldberg called the bochur’s father to discuss the issue. He also spent some time learning with this bochur sefer Nefesh Hachaim to help him understand the power of tefillah. He then made a practical suggestion that would perhaps help the bochur enhance his davening. He said, “There are various customs as far as standing during Pesukei Dezimra. I personally sit during Pesukei Dezimra, but on the other hand, if you ever noticed, the rosh yeshiva stands. Perhaps it would be beneficial for you to take on the practice of standing.” When the talmid walked into Shacharis the next day, he noticed that Rav Goldberg was standing during Pesukei Dezimra. And he continued to do so for the rest of that year and the next! Then this talmid stopped watching. Here was a rebbi who was making a suggestion to a talmid which may enhance his davening, but he wasn’t comfortable making the suggestion without doing the same himself.
One of the bochurim was going to be traveling out-of-town for an off Shabbos. Rav Goldberg was concerned about the potential spiritual pitfalls that the time in the airport as well as the flight could present for a bochur. He knew that giving the bochur a pep-talk before he left would only provide minimal protection from the challenges of his trip. Instead, Rav Goldberg had his own way of driving home the message and at the same time also helping the bochur with something practical. On his way out to the airport, this talmid was greeted by his beloved rebbi with a stack of kosher reading material. “Here, these will help you keep your mind from getting distracted on the trip!”
On another occasion, there was a bochur who hailed from Los Angeles whose troublesome behavior demanded that he be suspended from yeshiva. The hanhallah was concerned that sending the boy back home to Los Angeles without any program would be detrimental to his ruchniyus. After several hours of deliberating, they decided to send the bochur to an uncle in Lakewood instead, with the understanding that he would keep up with the shiur via his chavrusah who was in yeshiva. He was also instructed to call his rebbi every night and repeat the shiur back to him. And this is what he did, night after night. After listening to the bochur repeat the shiur, Rav Goldberg commented: “You say the shiur better than I do! It is a good thing that I am the older one and you are the younger one, because I am afraid that otherwise people will confuse the rebbi and the talmid!” This bochur (today a respected menahel) believed his rebbi, and it gave him tremendous encouragement to continue.
Rav Goldberg never considered himself to be on vacation when it came to his bochurim. He once felt that there was a bochur who needed someone to say goodnight to him while he was home during bein hazemanim. It was Rav Goldberg himself who would call the bochur every single night of bein hazemanim and give him the extra love that he needed.
Selfless in his Devotion
Every person goes through difficult situations at different times throughout their life. And Rav Goldberg was no exception. Nevertheless, those who spent decades in his company at the yeshiva testified that they never saw him worried or dejected. He clearly felt that it was important for him to distract himself from his own issues for the benefit of the talmidim.
One rebbi related: “Ten years ago, the yeshiva moved into the new Kest Bais Medrash. As the rabbeim were surveying their new surroundings, we couldn’t help but wonder how the bais medrash would be set up and where each rebbi would sit. To Rav Goldberg, these small concerns meant nothing. “It doesn’t matter in the tiniest bit where I sit,” he emphatically declared upon entering the bais medrash.
Rav Eliyahu Ausband, son of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Avrohom Ausband, relates: “When I returned to the yeshiva as a new member of the hanhallah, there was no one who was happier for me than Rav Goldberg. He always made it clear to me that he was there to help me smooth my transition in any way possible. He constantly offered advice, assistance, and just plain support throughout the entire process.”
After the levayah at the yeshiva, the bochurim were encouraged to solidify their thoughts. One bochur expressed his take-home message: “We learned from Rav Goldberg that the only thing that really counts in life is learning and davening! Everything else is shtusim!”
During the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, the bochurim were on schedule to chazer their limudim of the entire Elul zeman in anticipation of an oral farher given by the rosh yeshiva. At the time, Rav Goldberg was already well aware of the seriousness of his condition. However, this did not allow him to default on his responsibilities for his beloved talmidim. He made a phone call that Sunday to relate his plan for the week. “I will be going in for treatments during the next two days. I already mapped out the schedule for the chazarah over the next two days with the sho’el umeishiv, Reb Chaim Zev Feder. I also composed a written test just in case the rosh yeshiva is unable to give the oral bechinah.”
Like a Father to His Talmidim
Many talmidim expressed their profound sense of loss at hearing the news of Rav Goldberg’s petirah. Some of them said: “I have not felt such pain since I suffered the loss of my father.”
Reb Matis Stern was in Rav Goldberg’s shiur when his mother gave birth to a baby boy in Los Angeles. After consulting with his rebbi, it was decided that it really didn’t make sense for him to fly out to California to join in the simcha personally. He was understandably disappointed at missing his own brother’s bris. On the day of the bris, Rav Goldberg came into shiur with all kinds of goodies and declared, “We’re going to make a bris right here in Riverdale!” Reb Matis even remembers the “bris Torah” that his rebbi said on the occasion, and he surely never forgot the warmth of the moment, when he was wrapped in his rebbi’s fatherly love.
There were others who missed simchos as well. Rav Goldberg always made sure to acknowledge the simcha and celebrated the occasion with a cake or a candy platter. Similar care was displayed when a bochur was feeling homesick. Rav Goldberg always noticed his talmid’s unhappiness and made sure to empathize with a concrete expression of his love.
Life Lessons for His Talmidim
Many years ago, a fire broke out in the Goldberg home and the family suffered the loss of all of their worldly possessions. The technical details of putting his life together occupied his every moment for next the three days. The talmidim can never forget the way he walked into shiur the following day and cried out: “I never missed a day of limud haTorah. Now, I missed almost three days!” And he burst into tears.
Rav Goldberg managed to squeeze in a visit with his talmidim in-between treatments and he stopped into yeshiva before Yom Kippur to give them some much-needed chizuk. He shared with them a story of a wealthy individual who was diagnosed with a deadly disease. His doctors related the gloomy news and didn’t offer any method of treatment. They claimed that as far as they knew, there was no one who survived this specific illness. On second thought, they mentioned that there was one exception. There was one person who lived in Meah Shearim who recovered. Upon hearing this, the wealthy man immediately reached out to this person and entreated him to please share his secret. The wealthy man told him that he would spare no expense in obtaining this refuah. The man from Meah Shearim said: “There was something that worked for me, but I don’t think that you can do it. I had one hundred descendants daven at the Kosel for forty days straight for my health!” The implication was clear. Rav Goldberg was telling his beloved talmidim that perhaps they were his ticket to a complete recovery. Then Rav Goldberg taught his talmidim one more lesson. He selflessly asked that they daven not only for him, but for the rest of Klal Yisroel as well.
On that same occasion, Rav Goldberg told his talmidim that he was already aware of the seriousness of his condition even before Rosh Hashanah. Nevertheless, he chose not to share his new reality with his shiur. He explained to them that he felt that if they knew that their rebbi was ill, they would not be able to properly concentrate on the sugya of arka’os, thinking that they had a “kranke rebbi.”
Rav Goldberg suffered terribly during the corona pandemic and was on a ventilator for three weeks. On the day that he was removed from the ventilator, he insisted on sending a message to his talmidim to tell them that he firmly believed that he was only alive thanks to their tefillos. This occurred on Erev Shevi’i Shel Pesach. The next year, on the anniversary of that date, he organized a conference call with his talmidim to relive the moment and to thank Hashem in their company. He also shared with them a halachic dilemma that he came upon when he was finally able to talk that day, as well as the shtickel Torah he wrote on the topic.
Malchus of Telshe
Rav Goldberg’s regal bearing at all times was a result of the years he spent in the Telshe Yeshiva. Reb Yitzchok Stern tended to Rav Goldberg during his final illness and shared the following observation: “Rav Mendel Futerfus was an elder Chabad chossid. He pointed out that one can learn from everything in creation, even from a tree. The lesson we can learn from a tree is that it dies while it is standing straight and tall.” Reb Yitzchok continued: “This was a description of Rav Goldberg. He may have been suffering terribly, but there was never a time when he appeared disheveled. He was always dressed in his bathrobe. Even when he was so needy, he would never ask me for anything. I would have to figure out what it was that he needed, and after he would confirm it, he would allow me to help him!”
Reb Eliezer Bodner visited Rav Goldberg when he was so weak that he was unable to even learn a posuk of Chumash. Rav Goldberg asked Reb Eliezer to help him review the six constant mitzvos instead.
Rav Goldberg’s geshmak and simchas hachaim were legendary. This was true in any interaction in the yeshiva throughout the day. Whenever there was a sheva brachos at the yeshiva, the rosh yeshiva would invariably call upon him to use his special flavor to bring joy to the chosson, the kallah and the mechutanim. Moreover, there were times when the yeshiva would have dancing for the bochurim, and Rav Goldberg utilized these occasions to really infuse his bochurim with true joy. Rav Goldberg’s position at the Chanukah mesibah was always the center of attention, and he would often stand on a chair and rile up the bochurim to dance with more intensity. On Purim, he would put on a special blue bekeshe and make an effort to give each bochur a personal boost of joy.
This past year, Rav Goldberg was the featured speaker at the Purim mesibah. Rav Fischer introduced Rav Goldberg as the international guest speaker based upon a Gemara in Taanis which describes a person who brings joy to others as a Ben Olam Haba. Rav Goldberg responded that he felt that he was truly an international guest speaker because he was just recently coming off his miraculous recovery from Covid, and he saw himself as coming all the way from “Yener Velt!”
At some point during his treatment, he received word that there was some improvement in his condition and the numbers were more positive. He immediately announced that he must say Nishmas. The aide who was taking care of him was a Skverer chossid, so he said, “And it has to be a Skverer Nishmas!” Unfortunately, he didn’t even have the strength to do so himself, but he sent a message that the family should say Nishmas on his behalf.
Rav Moshe Weinberger, today a R”M at Mesivta Sholom Schachne and a rov in Flatbush, was a close friend of Rav Goldberg and a former fellow rebbi at Telshe Riverdale. He visited the family during the shivah and told them, “Today, I went to a chasunah in memory of Reb Yudel!”
Sensitivity to Talmidim
Rav Goldberg would deliver his shiur with all of his strength. He would literally hobble out of shiur because he was so spent. For several years, Rav Goldberg would say his shiur while standing. There was a whole procedure, with an official gabbai who would bring him his shtender and set it up for him. He was clearly uncomfortable sitting. At times, when he literally couldn’t stand anymore, he would bring a pillow from home and sit in the armchair that was at his place. This past summer zeman, he asked for a new chair and began to sit during shiur. One of the bochurim made a calculation and figured out that the chair that was at his place was a gift from his talmidim. Even though he found the chair terribly uncomfortable, he would never say a word for fear of hurting the bochurim’s feelings. This past Pesach, the group of boys who purchased the chair left the yeshiva to go to learn in Eretz Yisroel. He was no longer afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings and he therefore asked for a new chair. To him, it was worth standing during shiur for six years as long as he didn’t hurt a talmid’s feelings.
The Shiur Was His Soul
Rav Goldberg invested tremendous effort in the preparation of his shiur. He also invested much thought into what specific points were important for the bochurim to hear and what was better left out. He always started with the basic cheshbon of the Gemara, Rashi and Tosafos before he added any meforshim. The yeshiva was learning Maseches Yevamos and Rav Goldberg said a shtickel from Mishnas Rav Aharon, offering a p’shat in a Tosafos. The next day, he was asking the talmidim to repeat the previous day’s shiur and a bochur fumbled over that particular point. Moreover, it became clear to Rav Goldberg that the bochur did not understand the Tosafos. He said to the bochur, “The fact that you don’t know the Mishnas Rav Aharon is disappointing, because I put in so much effort to prepare the shiur and I feel that you did not deem it worthwhile to make an effort to get it. But the Tosafos?! That’s a piece of my soul!”
One day, Rav Goldberg spent an entire shiur clarifying the cheshbon of the Gemara and the Tosafos. He happened to notice that a bochur wrote in his notes, “Rebbi said nothing in shiur today!” Rav Goldberg commented, “How can you say that I said nothing? I said over a Tosafos!”
Even though he said shiurim on the yeshiva masechtos many times, Rav Goldberg immersed his entire being into the preparation of his shiur, up to a point of never even allowing himself the pleasure of learning something else during the zeman. The typical learning calendar in Riverdale calls for several weeks of shiur followed by a week of chazarah. Initially, Rav Goldberg indulged himself during the week of chazarah and would learn something else. Eventually, even that stopped. When asked to explain why he was different than other rabbeim who were able to balance two different limudim, he would respond: “That rebbi is a gaon; the other rebbi never ever forgets anything he learns. I have to know myself. If I were to learn something else, then the bochurim will suffer the consequences!”
Care for the Talmidim
At the end of every zeman, the bochurim would be farhered by the rosh yeshiva in the company of the rebbi. It meant the world to him that his talmidim should do well, and often, Rav Goldberg would assist the bochurim, helping to make sure that they responded to the rosh yeshiva’s questions correctly. Invariably, the rosh yeshiva would quip: “I know that Rav Goldberg knows the shiur. I would like to know if this bochur knows it as well!”
When he was severely weakened by his final illness, he found it very difficult to hold a simple conversation. There was one time that a distinguished person reached out to inquire about his well-being. He was not able to speak and he was only able to respond to the caller’s brachos with a feeble “amein.” A few minutes later, one of his talmidim called. “This phone call I have to take!” he declared unequivocally.
Reb Matis Stern was one of the maspidim at the yeshiva at the conclusion of the shivah, and he reached out to several fellow talmidim and asked them to contribute stories to help present a picture of what Rav Goldberg was all about. Many of them responded: “I am the story!”
Search for the Truth
Rav Goldberg never found it difficult to acknowledge that someone else said a better sevara than him. He would often say in shiur: “I said the vort like this, but another rebbi, or this bochur, said even better!
Rav Shlomo Zalman Garfinkel is a respected talmid chochom and marbitz Torah in Eretz Yisroel today. He says that it is thanks to something that Rav Goldberg said that he attended the Riverdale Yeshiva. This story happened when he came to the yeshiva for his first Shabbos as a young applicant. He walked into the bais medrash and saw Rav Goldberg excitedly run over to Rav Frey to share a new sevara. Rav Frey listened patiently and then, with a few soft words, refuted the entire shtickel Torah. Rav Goldberg didn’t miss a beat, and his immediate and equally enthusiastic response was, “Avadeh ich bin nisht gerecht!” (Obviously, I am so wrong!) The love for Torah that was inherent in those simple words made a huge impact. The fact that a rebbi could admit to being wrong with the same excitement that he had when sharing an original thought endeared him and the yeshiva to Rav Shlomo Zalman forever.
Demanding Greater Heights
One talmid told of the time that Rav Goldberg was on a campaign to rectify what he perceived as a tremendous weakness in the way bochurim celebrated Purim. He felt that they should find some time for learning amidst the hectic nature of the day. That year, Rav Goldberg came into shiur before Purim and demanded that each talmid accept upon himself to learn a full half hour on Purim. This particular talmid (today a respected menahel) felt that he was not yet ready for such an undertaking and told his rebbi so in no uncertain terms. Rav Goldberg said that they were not going to leave the room until each bochur accepted, and this talmid stood his ground. Eventually, he capitulated and did make the kabbolah, and he is thankful to his eleventh grade rebbi for changing his Purim until today.
There was one talmid at the yeshiva who had a penchant for doing everything in a calculated manner, often to a fault. This sometimes found him at odds with his rabbeim. On Rosh Hashanah, the yeshiva typically dedicated close to an hour for Pesukei Dezimra. This talmid made a calculation that if he was able to complete his Pesukei Dezimra on a regular Shabbos in half that time, there was no reason for him to wake up an extra half hour early on Rosh Hashanah. He strolled into davening on Rosh Hashanah morning quite late. Rav Goldberg didn’t say a word. It was only several weeks later – two weeks into the winter zeman – that this bochur was reprimanded by his rebbi for the proper respect that a Rosh Hashanah davening demanded.
There was a time when Rav Goldberg was trying to encourage a talmid to learn with a weaker chavrusah. The bochur was not easily convinced that this was in his best interest. The rebbi showed him the words of the Chasam Sofer in Parshas Vayeira that Hashem gave Avrohom Avinu levels of nevuah that were beyond what he had attained in his avodah, because this very lack of spiritual heights was due to his sacrifice to teach others about Hashem.
Rav Goldberg would often share an elevated perspective with his talmidim even though he was aware that certain things may be the reality of the generation and he wasn’t going to change the world. One example of this was the custom that some have of a new chosson and kallah being transported from the wedding hall in a limousine. He insisted on sharing his distaste for this behavior with his talmidim just so that they may hear that there is something wrong with it.
Rav Goldberg believed that sugar-coating can help a bochur swallow a mussar message. He would often homiletically use the expressions of the Gemara he was learning to convey a lesson in middos. For example, when they were learning the second perek of Bava Basra, he dedicated his pesicha shiur to “Lo yachpor adam! Don’t bury a person!” Or he would say, “Ki b’apam hargu ish – With a twitch of the nose one can kill a person.”
His Joy in Helping Others
Rav Goldberg was well-known in his community for the energy he invested in community projects and helping local families. He derived tremendous satisfaction and joy when he was able to help someone. Rav Dovid Breslauer shared the following story and a perspective on Rav Goldberg’s desire to do chesed for the fulfillment of being a giver.
While he was in the hospital with his final illness, his roommate was being discharged. It was clear from his roommate’s manner and sense of disorientation that he did not have a penny to his name or perhaps even a place to call home. He asked Rav Goldberg to help him with a few dollars so that he would be able to pay for the car fare to leave the hospital. Rav Goldberg asked him if five dollars would be helpful. He said that he needed twenty dollars. Rav Goldberg had entered the hospital on Yom Tov and did not have his wallet with him at the time. He borrowed twenty dollars from the family member who was attending to him and then burst out in a big smile.
Rav Breslauer explained that this smile was the satisfaction he had in helping another person. He was in the hospital and was definitely not in a position to do much for others, and that caused him anguish. But Hashem understood the pain he felt under these circumstances and sent him a “malach” in the form of a needy roommate to allow him a chance to give to others.
May Rav Goldberg’s memory inspire all of us to look beyond ourselves to think about others. In this merit, may we once again drink from Rav Goldberg’s Torah and mussar with the coming of Moshiach and techiyas hameisim.