With the passing of Rav Matisyohu Salomon, Klal Yisroel has lost one of its greatest mashgichim and manhigim. Many stories have been told of the Mashgiach’s legendary love for Yidden, limitless concern for almanos and yesomim and his gadlus that inspired a nation.
Having had the fortune of witnessing the Mashgiach’s love, compassion, wisdom and responsibility through numerous prisms, I hope the following selection of personal memories will offer the reader a small taste of his gadlus from the vantage point of one of the many he so inspired.
As a talmid in Bais Medrash Govoah, Rav Matisyohu’s Monday night shmuessen would inspire us to dig deeper and reach higher in our learning and in our relationship with Hashem and with others. These lucid, precise and uplifting shmuessen were delivered to standing room crowds. In addition to the talmidei hayeshiva, scores of talmidei chachomim, klei kodesh and baalei batim would attend for their weekly ruchniyusdike injection that would lift them through that week. At times the message was demanding but we knew it was always delivered with the deepest love and concern.
The lines of talmidim waiting outside of the Mashgiach’s office each morning before first seder was a testament to the wisdom and love he imparted to each one of us. Invariably, one could notice the relief and happiness on the faces of the talmidim as they exited the office.
Rav Matisyohu once told me that the first Friday night after becoming mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoah, the bnei hayeshiva filed by to say “Gut Shabbos.” One of those on line had the brazenness to ask, “So what’s your plan here in Lakewood?”
The Mashgiach warmly replied, “You see this line of people filing by? ‘My plan’ is that each of these people should have a bigger smile on their face and be more b’simcha.” So many can attest to the fact that he successfully executed ‘his plan’.
Many benefited from the many daily vaadim he delivered. Whether it was the early morning Chumash/Rashi vaad or a vaad in different sifrei mussar. These vaadim gave you something to think about and were catalysts for many positive changes in people’s middos and avodas Hashem.
A fearless leader, Rav Matisyohu took stands on many issues, communal and personal. When the Mashgiach became involved in the plight of girls who were not yet accepted into school, he didn’t allow any schools to open until these girls’ gained acceptance. As is well known, he literally gave his health away in his battle to ensure that technology wouldn’t tear down the fabric of our nation. He wouldn’t back down when he felt k’vod Shomayim was at stake. After all it wasn’t his battle. He was fighting for Hashem.
On one particular occasion, I came to discuss a communal issue with the Mashgiach. After lengthy discussion, he sent me to someone with knowledge of that issue and told me to report back to him. When I reported back to the Mashgiach, there was still some unclarity as to how to deal with things. Rav Matisyohu sent me to Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky to get his opinion. After discussing the situation for some time, Rav Shmuel offered his opinion.
When I relayed Rav Shmuel’s opinion to the Mashgiach, he immediately said that daas Torah has spoken and Rav Shmuel’s opinion should be followed. This incident gave me a deeper appreciation of the Mashgiach’s sense of responsibility as well as his bitul to daas Torah even when he had many reasons to recommend taking a different approach.
I vividly recall knocking on the Mashgiach’s door one evening. It had been some time that I’d been involved in a cause and it was weighing me down. I felt that there were those who were trying to undermine certain efforts and it was just too draining to continue. The Mashgiach would not hear of it. “Ride the waves,” he said. That chizuk pulled me through and allowed me to continue. I knew that those words were coming from someone who rode gargantuan tidal waves.
For many years, mekarvim from across New Jersey would converge on the Mashgiach’s home for a weekly vaad. I had the z’chus attending many of these vaadim and was always amazed at the crystal clear hadracha. The Mashgiach would never punt on a shailah. The thorniest and most complex issues relating to kiruv rechokim and harbotzas Torah were addressed with precision and confidence.
Watching the Mashgiach meet with not yet religious groups was a sight to behold. He was as comfortable with them as he was with his talmidim in yeshiva and he would connect with them so naturally, elevating them through love and genuine concern.
We were a fledgling kehilla of approximately twenty families who resided in the Hearthstone neighborhood on the outskirts of South Lakewood. The kehilla decided that the Mashgiach would be our guiding light who would lead us until we were established enough to hire a rov.
When I informed the Mashgiach that he was chosen as our interim moreh derech, he chuckled and said, “I got voted in but who says I accept the job?”
The consummate baal achrayus, from that day on, the Mashgiach’s door and heart were always open to us and he never ceased to amaze us with his care, responsibility and involvement. We would have discussions every few days at a minimum. The Mashgiach came to speak to us a couple of times and we also met at his home. I was amazed when I heard about unsolicited phone calls he made for our benefit. Whether it was to assist in finding a rov (which is something the Mashgiach generally felt was of utmost importance) or various other items pertaining to building a kehilla, the sense of achrayus that we saw in the Mashgiach was beyond description.
Just being around the Mashgiach was always so pleasant. The combination of zest and zeal were so invigorating and at the same time uplifting. I still recall driving the Mashgiach one morning. I had my two-year-old son in a car seat in the back of the car. The Mashgiach turned around and warmly made conversation, making him feel important.
On another occasion my friend and I knocked on the Mashgiach’s door. We were to pick Rav Matisyohu up for a pre-scheduled speech at an event that was being held for yungeleit embarking on careers in harbotzas Torah.
A grandson answered the door. We told him we were there to pick up his grandfather. He asked us to wait a moment.
When he came back to the door, he said, “My grandfather wants to know where he is being taken.”
“To Rabbi Gissinger’s shul,” was our reply.
The grandson went back inside and came back a minute later. “Upstairs or downstairs?”
He went back in and came back a moment later to tell us his grandfather was coming in a few minutes. A few minutes later the Mashgiach came to the door and we began walking him to the car.
“What’s this all about?” he asked.
We explained to him what the event was about.
Rav Matisyohu asked if we could drop off his grandson on the way to the event. As we dropped off his grandchild, the Mashgiach looked out the car window and began to smile. He mentioned that the street names were the same names of streets in Gateshead.
The Mashgiach proceeded to deliver a masterful drosha at the event. The ride from his house to the event must’ve taken less than twenty minutes and we had conversed with him the entire trip.
I was driving the Mashgiach the week after he had delivered multiple fiery shmuessen in BMG on bitachon with regard to parnosah. I brought up a personal question relating to the subject that I believed was a contradiction to the premise relayed in the shmuessen, but was a path I thought may make sense for me. I thought the question would evoke a passionate response. The Mashgiach lovingly responded with laser clear hashkafic instruction as to how I should proceed. There was a message that was right for the tzibbur but at the same time, there was an answer tailor made for each yochid.
As a yungerman, Torah Umesorah sent my family along with a group of bochurim to Sandy Springs, GA to run a summer Project SEED program. Sandy Springs was a wonderful but very small community. The shul was small with maybe 20 people davening there on Shabbos. I couldn’t believe it when the members of the shul sat us down to excitedly showed us a video. Apparently, Rav Matisyohu had come earlier that year for a day of chizuk and they wanted us to see the highlights. We watched the video all the while sensing the excitement in the air that still existed from the Mashgiach’s visit many months earlier.
The Mashgiach encouraged me to daven as a baal tefilla at a newly formed Yomim Noraim kiruv minyan in Marlboro, NJ, clearly walking through the halachic and hashkafic guidelines that should be met. Rav Matisyohu would spend a Shabbos with the Marlboro community every year. One could sense that this Shabbos would carry this kiruv kehilla through the year.
Rav Matisyohu was always pointing out the good in the varying segments of Klal Yisroel. A friend of mine was in a bungalow colony when the Mashgiach was spending Shabbos there. It was a lengthy davening Friday night with much singing and chazzonus as one would expect to find at a chasidish/heimishe minyan. As he was leaving shul with my friend, he remarked, “Ah, what a varmeh davening!” It was far from what he was used to, but he saw the good in the avodas Hashem of others.
A close friend of mine married a girl whose father passed away at a young age. He mentioned to me that the Mashgiach would visit his mother-in-law every Friday night and spend time with the family. This meant the world to them. On Chanukah this family’s minhag was to light their menorah at their front door. They told the Mashgiach not to be matriach to come that Friday night. That wasn’t an option as Rav Matisyohu showed up that Friday night trudging around to the back of the house and climbing the steps to show he cared.
The Mashgiach’s involvement with this mishpocha, as with so many others, was the stuff of legends. All of their questions were posed to him and he always made time for whatever they needed. When the father of this family was niftar, Rav Matisyohu told the mother to continue bentching the children as was the minhag of her husband. He had a kviyus learning with one of the boys. When he was forced to miss one of the children’s weddings, he insisted on joining for Shabbos Sheva Brachos and delivering a drosha in honor of the occasion.
Rav Matisyohu has his pulse on what was going on. He knew which school had proper hadrocha by recess to ensure proper bein adam lachaveiro and that meant a lot to him.
During the Mareh Hasneh, Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu to remove his shoes. The Kli Yokor (in his sefer Olelos Ephraim) explains that when a person removes their shoes, their body experiences the rocks, bumps and other imperfections of the ground. Hashem was imparting an important lesson to Moshe as he was to embark on leading Klal Yisroel. A leader must feel and experience the imperfections and challenges of his people.
That, to me so symbolized the Mashgiach. His leadership was so effective because he was so entrenched in whatever he was involved with. He felt the pain, the sfeikos and the challenges that came to his doorstep as if they were his own. He was so there right at your side. So many Yidden the world over had the zchus to walk with the Mashgiach.
If you looked close enough, you realized he was walking without shoes.
Indeed, the Mashgiach executed ‘his plan.’
Yehi zichro boruch.