A long line of people followed the rov through the streets, clutching Chumashim in their hands. These people had been his guests on the Seder night. In Rav Yaakov Edelstein’s home, the Haggadah virtually came to life. As he sat at his table, dressed in his kittel and white yarmulke, he made the ten makkos come alive. When the moment of Yetzias Mitzrayim arrived, the guests trembled with excitement as he rose from his seat and placed the matzos on his shoulder, and the children followed him in a march across the living room, singing “MiMitzrayim Ge’altanu.”
The next day, in shul, one of the mispallelim told the rov that a particular resident of Ramat Hasharon was selling bread in public. “After Kerias HaTorah, we will all go out with our Chumashim,” the rov said.
The people gathered at the entrance to the store, and Rav Yaakov thundered the words of the posuk, “For anyone who eats chometz shall be cut off … until the seventh day.” He repeated these words time after time, until the proprietor of the store finally emerged, trembling violently, and begged the rov to stop. “Enough; I will close the store!” he said.
The rov later explained that when a protest is made, it is necessary to speak directly to the neshomah. There is no need for shouting; all that is necessary is for the words of the Torah to be conveyed in such a way that they will penetrate.
The Child with the Esrog
There was a difference of many years between the ages of Rav Yaakov Edelstein and the young boy who stood before him, hesitant and red-faced with embarrassment as he held a beautiful esrog. This young boy was a resident of Ramat Hasharon. He had dreamed of this moment for months, and now he was standing before the rov, with a long line of men behind him, as he sought the rov’s approval for the esrog he had chosen.
“He has been saving up for this since he received his Chanukah money last year. He used all of his money to buy his own esrog,” someone told the rov. Rav Yaakov beamed with pride. Here was a pure Jewish child who had accumulated a large sum of money and had spent it with joy for the purpose of fulfilling a mitzvah. Could there be anything more praiseworthy than that?
The rov examined the esrog carefully, taking his time as if there wasn’t a long line of men, many of them much older than his current questioner, waiting to present their own esrogim to him on that busy day before Sukkos. Finally, the rov exclaimed, “Mehudar! Mehudar!” And then, in order to give the boy the best possible feeling that he could, he added, “This esrog is worthy even for a 90-year-old!”
The Rebuke That Was Too Gentle
Rav Yaakov dispensed loving words of rebuke to those who violated the halachos of Shabbos or Yom Tov, whether they did it for the sake of their livelihoods or simply out of habit. On Shabbos, he would walk up and down the streets of Ramat Hasharon, and when he saw a business that was open, he would enter the establishment and proclaim, in a voice that was at once gentle and firm, “Zachor es yom haShabbos!” With that, he would continue on his way.
One Shabbos, Rav Yaakov passed by a carpenter’s shop, where the sounds of active machinery echoed from within. “It’s Shabbos today. Why are you working on Shabbos?” he asked the carpenter, who was busy with his work.
Several days later, the carpenter appeared at Rav Yaakov’s door with a massive bandage covering one of his hands. “Just a few minutes after the rov told me not to work on Shabbos, I lost two fingers in a work accident,” he said in an accusing tone. Then he added, “Why was the rov so gentle to me? Why didn’t you insist on stopping me?”
Reviving the Spirit
It was motzoei Yom Kippur. The people were returning home from shul, their bodies weakened by the fast and the long hours of davening. As always, the Geulas Yisroel shul had been packed with mispallelim, and all of them filed past the rov at the end of davening to wish him a healthy winter and a good year. After a fairly long time, when he had finished exchanging good wishes with everyone, the rov hurried home and broke his fast with a glass of water.
Suddenly, Rav Yaakov exclaimed, “I need something to revive me!” His family presumed that he was weak, and he needed to have some food after the difficult fast and the long evening in shul. They offered him something to eat, but the rov declined. “I meant that I need to learn Sukkah b’iyun!” he said.
A Father’s Warmth
It happened every day in the middle of Shacharis. As the time for birkas kohanim drew near, people would move from all over the shul toward the spot where the rov stood, where they gathered under his tallis. Like a father, he would allow them to stand beneath his tallis as the words of the brachos of the kohanim were spoken. They treasured those moments, when they truly felt the paternal warmth and love radiating from their caring rov.
One of the people who often took advantage of those moments was Oded Menashe, a resident of Ramat Hasharon. He is a prominent Israeli media personality, known as the “children’s star,” who often presides over large events. Over the years, he became close to Rav Yaakov and has gone on to be mekadeish shem Shomayim in even the remotest areas of the country. “I was once brought under the rov’s tallis,” he said, “and ever since that day, every morning, I felt that I could not go through my day without it. I will never again have a day like those I had when I experienced birkas kohanim with the rov.”
Nothing to Lose
One of the residents of Ramat Hasharon, who smoked a massive quantity of cigarettes, was told by the doctors in a hospital that he had less than a week left to live. His lungs had collapsed, and he was certain to die. All of their tests showed that cancerous cells had metastasized throughout his body. His life was over, they declared, and his family was told to prepare for his burial.
The man was not religious; he had smoked cigarettes constantly, even on Shabbos and Yom Kippur. He was advised to go to Rav Yaakov for a brocha, and he protested, “But I am chiloni!” After many exhortations, and when he finally decided that he had nothing to lose, he decided to seek the rov’s brocha.
Rav Yaakov stipulated that the man promise that he would not smoke on Shabbos. “I can’t do that,” he protested. Even if it would cost him his life, he could not give up his addiction.
But the rov was adamant. “The doctors said that you won’t live until Shabbos anyway,” he said. “Why should you object to promising that you won’t smoke this Shabbos? If you won’t have to keep your promise anyway, why won’t you just commit to not smoking on Shabbos?” The man thought about it at length, and finally agreed to the stipulation. He shook hands with the rov and accepted the commitment.
Nine years later, he is still alive.
Rav Yaakov’s being was dedicated to harbotzas Torah and bringing the Word of Hashem into the hearts of the people of Ramat Hasharon. He attended every siyum, making his own unique impact on the occasion. Whenever a resident of the town celebrated the conclusion of a certain period of learning, even if there were fewer than ten people at the siyum, he knew that if Rav Yaakov were told about the siyum, he would make it his business to be there. “But the rov is busy,” Rav Yaakov’s family members often remonstrated with him. “How can he attend every siyum?”
Rav Yaakov would merely silence them and say, “We must instill love for the Torah in every person. It will give them strength!” Even when it seemed that there was not even a single spare moment in his packed schedule, Rav Yaakov would make sure to make time for a siyum. “On the way to a shiur, we will go in for a minute and then continue on our way,” he would say. And he would then spend much more than a single minute at the celebration.
Kollel yungerleit, especially those who lived in Ramat Hasharon, found that Rav Yaakov Edelstein’s caring accompanied them at every moment of their lives. Not only did he listen intently to their concerns whenever they felt the need to speak to him, he would also take the initiative to inquire about their well-being. One distinguished yungerman, who founded a kollel of his own, related that Rav Yaakov once called him into a side room, at a time when he was feeling particularly overwhelmed by the financial burden he had undertaken.
“You have a mortgage to pay, correct?” the rov said. Without waiting for a reply, he withdrew a large wad of bills from his pocket and handed it to the stunned yungerman. It amounted to a hefty sum of money. “That is the type of thing that only a father could do,” the yungerman asserted.
An Example of Yiras Shomayim
Rav Yaakov Edelstein was a father figure not only to the adults of Ramat Hasharon, but to the children as well. He visited the city’s schools and took an interest in the progress and well-being of their students, always seeking ways to benefit them. Rav Yaakov went to great lengths to ensure that the youths of Ramat Hasharon who had completed their studies were accepted to quality yeshivos.
Rabbi Yehuda Engel, a close associate of Rav Yaakov who served for several years as the menahel of the Talmud Torah in Ramat Hasharon, once sought the rov’s advice concerning a rebbi in his school. He related that the rebbi taught yiras Shomayim to his students and set an excellent personal example, but he was too easygoing and his pupils took full advantage of the lack of discipline in his class. What should be done?
Rav Yaakov Edelstein was always extremely cautious to avoid harming another Jew’s parnossah. Furthermore, he valued the rebbi’s personal example and role in cultivating yiras Shomayim in his young charges. Rav Yaakov therefore came up with an innovative solution: A new melamed should be hired to take over the class, and the rebbi should be reassigned to oversee the davening in the school. This way, the students would have an opportunity to see him and learn from him every day.
The rebbi was duly reassigned and joined the school minyan, and he continued receiving his monthly salary … out of Rav Yaakov Edelstein’s pocket.
The Athlete Turned Baal Teshuvah
Almost twenty years ago, someone approached Rav Yaakov to request a brocha for his relative, a well-known Israeli athlete who had been injured in a serious car accident. The athlete, who had previously played his sport on Shabbos, committed to observing Shabbos in response to Rav Yaakov’s brocha. Out of gratitude to the rov, he also asked if he could serve as Rav Yaakov’s personal driver on occasion.
“After a few conversations with the rov,” he related, “I came to appreciate the rov of Ramat Hasharon, and I decided that I wanted to be as close to him as I could.” A few months later, after his mother passed away, he embarked on a journey toward religion. This man, who had once been completely irreligious, soon became meticulously observant of halacha, and eventually was appointed the representative of Degel HaTorah in the Ramat Hasharon city council.
On the Street
Rav Yaakov’s walks to and from his shul or bais medrash amounted to tens of thousands of steps. The residents of Ramat Hasharon grew accustomed to seeing Rav Yaakov walking along the streets of their town, immersed in thought and generally alone, yet greeting everyone with a smile. “Pinchos the shoemaker,” one of the well-known residents of the town, occasionally commented that they would have to see to it that the rov was provided with new shoes, since his existing pair must certainly have become worn out after such extensive use.
At night, when Rav Yaakov took walks for the sake of his health, young people would often pull up alongside him in their cars – people who had no connection to the Torah or Yiddishkeit — and would express their admiration for him. One day, when the rov almost collided with a young lady who was walking her dog, he stopped in his tracks, made a few pleasant inquiries about her studies, and wished her success. Some people might have balked at the notion of a distinguished rov taking the time to make small talk with a young lady he did not know, but as far as Rav Yaakov was concerned, it was simply what was required of him, out of respect for another human being.
“It’s My Job”
The mispallelim of all the 36 shuls of Ramat Hasharon knew that there were certain dates when Rav Yaakov would join them for davening. For instance, beginning with Maariv on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, Rav Yaakov would make his rounds of all the shuls in the town, making sure to visit all of them by the end of Simchas Torah. Every shul was graced by his presence at some time during the yom tov season, whether it was the Turkish shul, the Persian shul, the Bnei Torah shul, the Yemenite shul, or any of the various other shuls of the town.
At times, Rav Yaakov davened in several shuls on the same day. Wherever he went, he greeted the mispallelim warmly; he knew them all by name, and he always inquired after their families and shared his recollections of their parents.
This was his practice for over 60 years. Whenever someone tried to dissuade him from continuing this arduous practice, Rav Yaakov would reply with a smile, “How could I not go to the shuls? I am the rov here. This is my job.”
A Surprising Phone Call
The telephone rang in a home in Ramat Hasharon, and one of the older children answered it. The caller, who spoke in a familiar-sounding adult voice, asked to speak with the youngest sibling in the family.
“Who is this?” the older child asked.
“My name is Yaakov Edelstein,” the caller replied.
The youngest child, trembling with excitement, took the telephone receiver from his older brother. What could the mora d’asra want? Why had he gone to the effort of making the call? “Yes, Rabbi?” the child said.
Rav Yaakov Edelstein announced into the phone line, “On Shabbos morning, you asked me a very good question on Chumash. I gave you an answer, but now I have an even better answer for you.”
Yes, the rov of Ramat Hasharon, who also served as a rov in Bnei Brak and a rosh yeshiva, a man who was one of the gedolei Yisroel, thought nothing of calling an eight-year-old boy on the phone in order to answer a question he had asked on the previous Shabbos. And that phone call sparked a change in the child’s life. He began to feel a powerful connection to the sweetness of the Torah, and he began toiling relentlessly to blossom in his learning and to increase his hasmodah.
Rav Yaakov Edelstein always acted as if his humility and greatness were the most natural things in the world.
Employees in the Ramat Hasharon municipality were surprised to see Rav Yaakov Edelstein enter the municipal buildings and walk down the corridor between the offices, evidently looking for something.
Several employees approached the rov and offered their help. Rav Yaakov explained that while he was walking down the street, he had spotted the invoice lying on the ground. He had picked it up and decided to come to the municipal building, since he presumed that the document had been lost by someone who was in the process of paying his bills. Rav Yaakov feared that the owner of the bill might have other payments to make, and he might forget about the invoice that had been lost. By returning the bill, he hoped to spare the owner from incurring a municipal fine.
“Let’s Go Together”
One Shabbos, after Rav Yaakov left his shul, a car pulled up alongside him, and the driver had the temerity to ask the rov for directions to a specific address. The rov shook his hand warmly and said, “Look, it’s not far away. I am going in that direction anyway. Why don’t we walk together?”
The driver understood that Rav Yaakov was trying to prevent him from desecrating the Shabbos. We will never know what affected him – the rov’s smile, his caring gaze, or his pleasant tone – but in any event, at that fateful moment, the driver suddenly resolved to begin keeping Shabbos.