Jerusalem – The world has lost an exceptional individual – a Rosh Yeshiva who combined the rare ability to plummet the inner most depths of Talmudic reasoning with the ability to plumb the inner depths of the Jewish soul with the insights of Mussar. He combined all this with yet another quality – he possessed an unparalleled Ahavas Yisroel that was palpable to all who knew him.
On the Yartzeit of Rochel Imeinu, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim has passed on.
Rav Finkel was the scion of a Rabbinic family – the great grandson of the famed Alter of Slabodka –for whom he was named. He was born in Chicago, in 1943 and was raised in a typical American Jewish manner.
The Talmud (Yuma 35b) tells us, “Hillel – obligates the poor in Torah study, Rabbi Elazar Ben Charsum obligates the wealthy in Torah study.” One can say the same thing about Rav Finkel zt”l, but in two dimensions – both equally dramatic.
Rav Finkel obligated those born in typical Jewish America in intense and in depth Torah study. This famed Rosh yeshiva grew up in Chicago Illinois, wearing a baseball cap and known as Natty Finkel. He grew up on baseball, American kosher hotdogs, apple pie and everything else that represents the American Jewish scene. He transcended all – in order to develop into a personality that develops other personalities.
But more than this, Rav Finkel was able to overcome the greatest of medical obstacles too – he suffered from the debilitating illness known as “Parkinson’s Disease.” He had difficulty walking, talking and moving about. He suffered from tremors too. Yet notwithstanding all of this, he expended every effort to raise funds for his Yeshiva. He travelled to and from to America often when he should perhaps not have exerted himself so much. People would plead with him not to expend the energy, but he could not help it. To the Rosh Yeshiva, the greatest of zchusim was in providing for his beloved Talmidim and for his beloved Rabbeim. He loved them all, and all who came in contact would see that very palpable love.
It is almost universally well known that the Rosh yeshiva did not take pain medication for his condition. Why not? He did not want the medication to affect his performance in the understanding of Torah – even one iota. His love for Torah and appreciating its insights to the maximum would not allow him to miss out on even one ounce of further insight and appreciation.
He would spend time in Lakewood, not only because so many of his Talmidim had come back to that citadel of Torah to study, but because of the Bnei Torah that permeated the city. He would visit Far Rockaway too, and warmly welcomed alumnus and parents.
Any visitor that went to his home in the Bais Yisroel section of Yerushalayim was struck by the name of the street – “Amailim.” Yes, of course. Perseverence – Amailim – those who persevere. What name of a street could better describe the person? He worked hard at everything he did, whether it was in learning, whether it was in the maintaining and forming of special bonds of love with all those who he came in touch with, or whether it was in dealing with debilitating illness.
In his tenure as the Rosh Yeshiva of the largest yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, the Mirrer yeshiva grew to be able to educate some six thousand current students. It grew under his direction, both in numbers as well as in quality. One shiur, in the Yeshiva, that of Rav Asher Arielli has over six hundred students in attendance. The shiur is such that one of Rav Arielli’s shiurim could be broken up into six different shiurim of major substance.
After the devastation of Europe that was the Nazi holocaust, the Mirrer Yeshiva relocated temporarily to Shanghai China. In 1947 Reb Leizer Yudel Finkel launched the Yerushalayim branch of the Yeshiva and eventually it grew exponentially. Rav Leizer Yudel passed away during Bein HaZmanim in 1965, when his son Reb Beinish Finkel and Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz took over the Yeshiva. When Rav Chaim passed away in 1978, his son in law Rav Nachum Partzovitz took over until 1986. Rav Beinish Finkel took over until his passing in 1990. After that Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel became Rosh Yeshiva and he led the Yeshiva into a remarkable period of growth.
Rav Finkel’s dedication to not just his talmidim, but all Talmidim studying Torah was legendary.
In the summer months, many Yeshiva students would study in the Beis Midrash of the Mirrer Yeshiva because it both offered a Kol Torah as well as a comfortable air-conditioned Bais Midrash, a reprieve from the debilitating heat of Yerushalayim in the summer months. Rav Finkel welcomed this and expressed, in his characteristic humility, his sense of appreciation that the Yeshiva could merit such a zchus. Beyond this, the Rosh HaYeshiva took it upon himself to serve the other Ueshiva bochurim lunch meals. That’s right – unheard of tzidkus. A yeshiva giving lunch meals to talmidim not from its own Yeshiva? Such was the love that the Rosh haYeshiva had for Bnei Torah – all Bnei Torah. He continued this practice until this past summer when the yeshiva, facing an unprecedented debt load, finally had to discontinue it.
The Rosh Yeshiva passed away of a heart attack in his home at approximately 6:00 AM. Hatzolah volunteers arrived at his home but were unable to save him. Nafla Ateres Rosheinu.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com